Northern California garden snails are “escargot”

[In answer to a sudden influx of requests, Over the Line, Smokey!‘s crack agricultural import legal team has advised us that shipping, mailing or carrying snails across state lines, or enabling such conduct, might result in lengthy prison terms and/or massive fines. OTL,S!, therefore, will not send you snails, unless you live in California, in which case you don’t need anyone to send you snails.]

Yes, those brown and yellow garden snails you host in your backyard are the same animals that are served as a delicacy in Europe. In fact, they were imported from France in the 19th century for that purpose, but the American palate did not cooperate. They have migrated to the wild.

the local common garden snail is the European brown — Helix aspersa. They were imported here in the early 1850s by a Frenchman who intended to sell them as food, but the market here during the Gold Rush was too unsophisticated for snails. He ended up dumping some snails, and another collection escaped. Snails are hermaphroditic, so of course they reproduced like crazy.The real enemy of snails is bad weather — snails need a mild climate to survive in, because they freeze. They also don’t do well if it’s too hot and dry. They don’t live all over the United States, you know. People in Wisconsin never have snails in their garden. Neither do my Italian grandparents in New Jersey..

As far as preparation, there is only one problem:

What you have to do first with snails is purify them, because — well, for all you know, they might have just eaten some snail bait. They don’t put arsenic in snail bait anymore, but a lot of snail-bait products do contain insecticide, and carbaryl is not something you want to eat.

Typically, the purification ritual lasts for two weeks. You purge snails by feeding them greens or corn meal — something like that. I just feed them corn meal, and I give them water and I change their food almost daily until I know that their systems are clean.

What kind of pen do you use? If someone wants to venture into snail ranching, what equipment should they buy?

Don’t use a cardboard box, because snails can chew through cardboard with their teeth, their little rasping mouthparts. A friend of mine keeps his snails in an old bathtub. I use a big plastic recycling bin. Remember to keep it covered, or they will escape.

Then it’s pretty routine:

After your snails are purified, how do you cook them?

You boil them first for 10-15 minutes. This forms an incredibly disgusting scum that you must keep cleaning off and cleaning off and cleaning off the top until it’s clear — you might even need to change the water. When the scum is gone, you know the snails are okay — they’re done.

After the snails die, most of them separate from their shells, but some you need to pull out — that’s easy. When they’re all removed, you just chop up the snails, dice them up fine and mix them with olive oil, garlic, butter and parsley. Mix them all together, stuff everything back into the snail shells and then bake them until they’re hot and bubbly.

If you don’t want to deal with the difficulty of stuffing shells and eating them out of shells, you can just cook them inside mushroom caps or in baking dishes that have little depressions. Italians also sometimes use snails in pasta sauce.

So grab that recipe book, and get busy. I’m sure your neighbors will be happy to have you “hunt” their property.


Filed under food/drink, San Francisco

40 responses to “Northern California garden snails are “escargot”

  1. Signe Hanson

    What is the lowest temperature for snails (Helix aspersa) to overwinter? You said your grandparents in New Jersey don’t have them, but can you narrow that down?


  2. Willow Raevynwood

    I live in Northern California and you don’t know how happy this info has made me! I love escargot and have always wanted to try my hand at making some but haven’t been able to find a decent place to obtain the snails. Now I know I don’t have to look further than my own backyard. =) Thanks!!

    • well, if you need more, just shoot me a note and I’ll give you mine, also.

      • Denise Adams

        I live near San Francisco and I’m having a Bastille Day party and I’m trying to find some live snails… There aren’t any in my garden…
        Do you really have some extras?
        Thanks for letting me know.

      • Coralie Ross

        Hi, I am looking for two or three snails at the most. I want them as pets. I think it is a Senior Moment kinda thing. (63) Let me know when you find some and are getting ready to send them. I will pay you two dollars each plus shipping costs. The sooner the better, because winter is starting. I live in Carpentersville, Illinois 60110. I hope that is enough for them. Let me know asap. Coralie

  3. does it matter what you feed them and how much water do you give the little darlings…If I put my shoebox in a plastic box will they be ok or will they die and be a disgusting mess? Have put cornmeal and carrot peelings in with them. Have some swiss chard …what is best for flavor. I have heard thyme and dill. Am excited about having favorite appetizer and not spending a small fortune in these times.

  4. Carolyn Redfern

    I live in Virgijia and i am looking for live helix aspersa, escargot, to cultivale. my first step is to find a source and then I can apply with the state to breed in a climate controlled indoor pavilion. Please reply

    • Manuel Betancourt

      Your article is very informative, thanks for it.
      I would like to start farming snails. I’m interested in buying some life snails (Helix Pomatia) and I can’t find a supplier. Do you have any for sale or do you know where I can get them.

      • Richard snails

        Ive got so many snails enough to start a farm or two probably could fill up ten of those white fruit bins if your interested seriously. get a hold of me. u would hv to cure them yourself or whtever the process is. i live in nor cal. about 75 miles north of sac. thanks 5305170268 richard

  5. Carolyn Redfern

    I live in Virginia and I am looking for live helix aspersa, escargot, to cultivale. my first step is to find a source and then I can apply with the state to breed them in a climate controlled indoor pavilion. Please reply

  6. john

    thanks so much for this post. the reason why i searched the topic was because i was walking from foster city to san mateo and ran accross probably hundreds of these guys piled in the ice grass along walkways leadind up to and down the various overpasses. makes sense since the run off water keeps those areas moist.

    with so many people wanting snails.. perhaps i can work a little business out of it. email me if you are interested.

    • Manuel Betancourt

      Hi, I know you posted this note a while back so I don’t know if you can still get the snails. I’m interested in Helix Aspersa or Helix Pomatia.

      • Coralie

        Where is this place where the snails are? I would suppose it is too late in the year for collecting a few. My home phone is 847-428-0243 I have an answering machine. I can always call you back. It doesn’t cost anything. Could be my age or my sex but I have a thing for land snails. The water ones are prettiest but I prefer the garden variety.I know that the Giant Aftrican Land Snail is ssooo against the law here but the locals or native varieties are okee dokee. I figure the escargo type because fo the size. We really must talk. Thanks for responding, Coralie

      • Coralie

        Can you still get the baby snails or adults? How much would four of them cost. They would need to be shipped of course. USA

      • Manuel Betancourt

        I’m interested in buying them not selling them. If you find anyone who sells Helix Aspersa or Helix Pomatia please let me know.

    • Perhaps; did your business work out? Snails are everywhere in Bay Area, native and non-native secies: I hope you did well in sales- if not e-mail me at – I have lots of snails in my yard and adjacent areas and can supply different species as you need. Thanks. bradford Norman (707) 218-1390. Biologist/ Taxonomist.

  7. john

    opps probaly need and email. if you want some live snails email – subject the mail “snails” and we can work something out.

  8. I dont get why there is bollowing pins as picture whens its snails your talking about

  9. juan ochoa

    Hello my mane is Juan And i have helix aspersa im feedthem with starter mash turkey 85%,rabbit pellets 15% And oyser shell as calcium And i would’ve like to know how to DEWORM my snails, ir some body knows please helpme

    • Coralie

      Juan, could you tell me where you bought the snails from.I want to keep a few for pets. Coralie

    • Manuel Betancourt

      Hi Juan, I’m interested in buying Helix Aspersa or Helix Pomatia snails.
      Do you have any for sale or do you know who does?

      • Coralie

        Sorry Manuel, seems we are both looking for these snails. I want a few for pets. I currently have a Russian Tortoise last years hatchling. Kept in my living room. Just got a sweet male Hedgehog a week or two ago.I just like how they look and act and some are quite handsome. Keep looking I know I will. Good luck, Coralie

    • Perhaps leave out open pumpkin rinds and let them forage on those? It is a naural de-wormer for chickens?

  10. jessi

    The reason that you may have trouble finding these snails is because the only states that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will authorize to receive Helix from another state are Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
    A permit may be obtained from the USDA for import of snails though:
    Good luck, Jessi

  11. Thomas

    Great thread!!

    I think Walnut Creek, CA may be the epicenter of the Helix aspersa California population. I collected nearly 4 dozen of them this morning and left easily that many in my backyard (likely MANY, MANY more). Those collected are currently hanging out in an old fish tank that I’ve converted for their “2 week walk”; eating cabbage and spinach greens. Next: Corn meal.

    Here’s to home-made escargot. Mmm-Mmm good!

    • Rasmey

      Hello Thomas, If you have more Helix Aspersa live snail, please email me at, I want to buy some. Thanks

    • sonya

      I would love to get some from you please email me at will pay! thanks

    • vanny Phan

      I need some snails to start raising Escargot snails to make food out of them in my garden I have some snails ,but I am afraid to eat them and I I always step on them .If someone have some comment .Please let me know ,I want to buy some live escargot snails very bad.thank you

    • Thomas

      An update on the thread…

      During Summer 2012 we were able to capture and process 32 dozen (yes, 32 dozen) snails. Most went through a 4 week cycle in the converted fish tank; a few escapees “got away”. The tank time allowed for verification that the snail was healthy and not poisoned by a neighbor. I ended the season with 3 tanks and the following process:

      1. Weeks 1 & 2 they fed leafy greens.

      2. The 3rd week they fed on carrots. When their feces turn orange you know they’ve cycled through their food.

      3. The 4th week they ‘cleaned’ their systems in preparation for the pot! Actually, by day 4 or so they were good to go – but I went the full week anyway, jic.

      4. Cook to your spec. (Yum!!)

      I’m happy to report that 3 dinner parties and several get togethers later I now have ~4 dozen left and am looking forward to the coming harvests. Needless to say, I have TONS of snails. So much so that I’m constantly stepping on them mornings after a heavy dew. A mixed blessing…

      Note: If you’re hunting for snails, my suggestion is to look for ice plant and/or other succulents that hold morning dew and which are located near the snails favorite food sources. Doing so on wet mornings will almost assuredly meet with foraging success!

      Have fun and happy eating!!

  12. A number of readers have requested live Brown garden snails. Unfortunately, that would be illegal in Florida, and probably other states as well…these little guys are not looked upon kindly because of their destructive ability.

  13. http://WWW.SnailsInTheMail.US Sells Helix Aspersa to all 50 states. No paperwork required, just click and go snails.

  14. Pingback: Escargot from Your Own Garden | Real Food for Health and Pleasure

  15. i have live escargot snails for sale: email me a I will send a $5 batch plus $5 shipping. From Northern California stock; organic; and free-ranging; they are common here. Remember to feed in a closed – screen jar corn meal for ten days before preparing them for a meal !
    B. Norman (707) 218-1390 ATT

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