The salsify root becomes discolored and spoils quickly if broken, which can easily happen since it is difficult to remove from the soil without damage. Its fragility and poor fresh storage mean that this heirloom is not typically seen in grocery stores but may be often found at farmers markets.
Known as common salsify, oyster plant, or vegetable oyster, salsify is a biennial cultivated for its ornamental flower, edible root, and herbal properties. Native to the Mediterranean region, it also grows wild in many places.
The roots of salsify, as well as young shoots, are used as a vegetable. Historically, the plant was grown for that purpose and was discussed by classical authors such as Pliny the Elder.
Cultivation began in France and Italy in the 1500s. In the United Kingdom, it was initially grown for its flower, and in the 18th century became a mildly popular vegetable but then fell out of favor. Salsify was grown in colonial America, with its popularity increasing by the 1850s. Presently the root is cultivated and eaten most often in France, Germany, Italy and Russia, and is experiencing resurgence in the United States.
This long, tapered root vegetable with creamy white skin and flesh is noted for tasting of oysters and gives it the alternative name “oyster plant.” Young roots can be grated for use in salads, but older roots are better cooked. The flowering shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked with the flowers adding color to a salad. Sprouted seeds can be used in salads or sandwiches.
Cultivated varieties include White French, Mammoth Sandwich Island, and Improved Mammoth Sandwich Island.
Grow this heirloom yourself!
Seed is available in Old Salem at The Garden Shop.