Botanical Name: Tragopogon porrifolius
Common Names: Salsify, Oyster Plant, Vegetable Oyster, Jerusalem Star or Goatsbeard
Salsify is an erect, narrow leafed biennial plant that has a stout taproot and produces a purple flower. It can reach up to 1.2m in height and If the plant is damaged or cut it will exude a milky sap.
The leaves are lance shaped and are alternately arranged, they can grow to 50cm in length and up to 2cm wide, are hairless in appearence and grass like at the base .
The flowers are produced at the end of long hairless hollow stems and are around 2cm - 6cm across. The flower heads are completely made up of florets (lots of small flowers making one big flower) When each of the flowers matures they turn into seeds, the same as a dandelion. The flowerheads are a light to deep purple in colour.
The root is thick and tubular in shape It can grow up to around 30cm in length and 5cm to 10cm in width.
The seeds are cylindrical to oval in appearence with a slight curve, the seed itself is around 1.5cm long. Each seed is attached to like a feathery bristle which enables the seed to carry in the wind just like the seeds of the dandelion.
Salsify grows erect and has a long lived crown. It has many stems joined at the nodes and is hairless in its appearance.
The Leaves, shoots, roots and flowers are all edible and was a hugely popular root vegetable in the 18th Century. Historically it was cultivated for that exact purpose.
The leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads or even cooked in a stir fry.
The young shoots can be cooked or eaten raw, a bit like asparagus.
The roots when young can be sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads. The root can also be cooked/ roasted like other root vegetables. The flavour is mild and fairly sweet and is said to resemble the taste of oysters ( although I'm not convinced). You can also roast the root and grind to make a hot beverage. NOTE: It is best to pick the root before the plant flowers as afterwards it becomes tougher with a more fibrous texture.
The flowers can be eaten raw and added into salads
Salsify is known for its cleansing properties and has been used to treat digestive and liver issues. It also has diuretic properties.
Picture credit to Rutger Barendse