Asparagus has been considered one of the finest table delicacies since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Yet strangely enough, asparagus grows wild around the coasts of Europe and in other sandy places. In fact, it is so common on the steppes of Russia that the cattle pasture on it!
Of the 150 species of asparagus widely distributed in tropical and temperate countries, many species are only cultivated for ornamental purposes. Wild asparagus grows on the south coast of England.
The remarkable thing about the asparagus plant is that it produces both the tender shoots which we eat, and the fern-like foliage which we use for decorative purposes. Asparagus for the table is cut while the leaves are still in bud and the shoot is less than ten inches high.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and has many varieties.
If it is left to grow, it becomes a plant two or more feet high with spreading branches bearing small, white flowers and brilliant, red berries. When the crop is gathered, some of it is tinned, and some rushed fresh to city markets where it is sold in bunches. In Europe, asparagus is often dried so it can be used in the winter.
Even though asparagus is delicious, and can be used to make soup, or eaten hot or in cold salads, it provides very little nutritive value because of its large water content.
Asparagus may be grown from seeds, or roots may be planted in a shallow trench which is later filled in gradually. The soil must be deep, rich and sandy. If the plant is allowed to grow for three years before it is cut, it will continue to an annual supply for some nine years or more, but the soil must be fertilized every year to maintain a good yield.