Oyster Plant or Salsify
Salsify from Prehistory to Today
Salsify, called the oyster plant, was once wildly popular in Europe and now grows wild almost everywhere around the world. The ancient Greeks and Romans used this vegetable extensively in cooking (Pliny the Elder mentions it), and in the Middle Ages salsify was prized for its oyster-like flavour. However, no-one really thought of cultivating it as a commercial crop (perhaps partly because it grows nearly everywhere) until the sixteenth century. The oyster plant was one of the foods brought by colonists to the New World in the eighteenth century, where it graced many colonial kitchen gardens, but this delicious vegetable fell out of favour in the early twentieth century.
If you're new to gardening, growing your own food is easier than you think, and this vegetable is easy to grow, has virtually no pests, and requires very little care. Salsify grows best in neutral soil, planted early in the year, or four months before the first frost in warm climates. Salsify needs about four months to produce a good-sized root, and likes potassium. You can grow oyster plant from seeds (it will reseed itself, and in seed looks like a giant dandelion) easily by starting the seeds in flats or peat pots. Give this vegetable plenty of space in the garden as it will grow at least four feet high! This plant can be highly invasive, so make sure you are diligent in keeping it under control and not letting it escape to your neighbours' yards. (Unless you can convince them how delicious it is!)
Make sure you get the right variety: Purple salsify, or Tragopogon porrifolius, is the kind whose root tastes like oysters. Other kinds of salsify can also be eaten, including black or Spanish salsify, Scorzonera hispanica, which belongs to a different genus of plants.
Salsify is a biennial, so you will need to replant it in alternate years. Since it grows readily from seed, it will tend to replant itself each year anyway.
Nutritional Information (per 100g)
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
One of the best varieties of salsify available.
If you're not ready to take the plunge and grow your own salsify, you can experiment with it until you are ready. This is so delicious in so many dishes!
Salsify is one of nature's most bountiful plants, in that every part of the salsify plant is edible. While prized for its roots, which taste like oysters, the salsify leaves can be blanched and served as a vegetable like spinach; the seeds can be sprouted and used like alfalfa sprouts; the shoots, which are produced in the second year, can be cooked like asparagus, or eaten raw.
Salsify root is best used fresh from the ground, and can be eaten either raw or cooked, after being washed and peeled. (Like apples, the roots tend to brown when exposed to air; if you are not planning to cook them immediately after peeling, keep in water to which you have added a little lemon juice, or coat the surface with lemon juice.) Young roots are good to eat raw, but older roots can be cooked and are still good. Use the grated root raw in salad, fry up thin slices of the root like potato chips; braise the root or use it in a casserole, and try it in soups, pot roasts, and stews. You can even make the roots into fritters by battering and deep-frying them to take the place of fried oysters. Any way you try salsify, you are sure to find it is really delicious!
If you are a vegan, and missing the taste of seafood, salsify may give you just enough flavour to keep to your vegan diet.
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