(Species: Tragopogon porrifolius - Family: Asteraceae)
Salsify and its origins
Salsify is a biennial wildflower that is a Mediterranean native but has been introduced to other regions of the world, from northern Europe to Australia and it grows wild all over the USA.
It is valued for its long, thin tap roots which have a delicate flavour when boiled, steamed or fried, and has been appreciated since ancient civilisations for its sweet flavour. The flavour is oyster-like, which is why it is often called the oyster plant, or vegetable oyster.
Salsify is about 120cm tall, with grassy leaves and a branchless stem which produces a milky juice. The flower, which is about 5cm in diameter and a dark purple in shade, blooms in summer but in warmer areas it can be seen blooming in spring. The root itself looks rather like a long, slim parsnip, and is white.
Grown from seed, it is sown in spring to be harvested from autumn after which they can be harvested as needed, as it is happy to sit in the soil. There are various cultivars, but there is no notable difference between them.
How to plant: Salsify
Salsify is a low-maintenance vegetable that needs no watering once the root is established, and is generally free from pests and diseases.
Most care needs to be taken before planting, preparing the soil in advance so that the roots are free to grow. This plant favours a rich, fertile soil but one that is light, heavy clay is not a wise choice of soil for salsify. The soil should not be freshly manured before sowing or the roots will divide. The site should be open and sunny, but not exposed.
Sow seeds throughout spring, siting three seeds in the same hole, 2.5cm deep, and thinning out as soon as possible to leave only the strongest seedling. Each seed should be 15cm apart to allow for root growth, and sown in rows 30cm apart.
Weed by hand around each plant to avoid the risk of root damage from hoeing.
This plant is generally free from pests and diseases.
Harvest in autumn; the roots can be left in the ground until required. Salsify roots need to be handled carefully when digging up, as they are brittle and run deep into the ground.
Did you know: Salsify
Both the shoots and buds of salsify have a delicate flavour and can be eaten like asparagus, raw or cooked, and the edible petals can be used to decorate dishes, especially salads.
A form of latex, derived from the root, can be used as chewing gum.