Salsify – Oyster Plant

April 18, 2006

I recently planted Salsify, also known as Oyster Plant or Vegetable Oyster, in my garden and the seeds have already sprouted and began growing.

Salsify is a rather uncommon root crop that is not often found growing in home gardens, but is actually a very care free vegetable to cultivate, though I’m still working on ways to use it in the kitchen.

Planting and Growing Salsify or Oyster Plant

salsify oyster plant root.thumbnail Salsify   Oyster PlantOyster plant’s main claim to fame is for producing an edible root with a taste that is similar to oysters. I have to confess that while I’ve grown oyster plants for a number of years, I have never eaten it, which I’ll explain the reason for a little later in this article.

Despite my resistance to cooking Salsify, I’ve grown it out of curiosity as an ornamental plant and to attract beneficial insects, which are drawn to the plant’s purple flowers. As a biennial, these flowers typically don’t show up in the garden until the plants second season of growth.

To grow salsify scatter the stick-like seeds over a deeply loosened and composted raised bed, and cover the seeds with a thin layer of topsoil or fine compost. Like parsnips, always use fresh seeds as they lose viability rather quickly. Plant salsify as early as possible in the spring for a fall harvest.

Be careful that you don’t dislodge the germinating seedlings as they look more like tiny twigs protruding from the ground than any type of vegetable plant that I’ve ever seen.

Harvesting and Preparing Vegetable Oyster Roots

salsify plant 150x150 Salsify   Oyster PlantThe brown seedlings will eventually grow into long, slender, clumps of grass like green leaves that are also edible and can be added to mixed salads. The tan colored roots can reach eight to twelve inches in length and about an inch in diameter.

Mature salsify roots can be dug up in the fall or they can be left in the ground over the winter and will resprout new leaves and produce both flowers and seeds during subsequent seasons. I’ve noticed roots that continue to grow for a number of years from a single planting.

As I mentioned earlier, I have never cooked salsify roots, and the reason is that they seemed somewhat of a hassle to prepare. First you have to carefully wash them and remove the thin skin by peeling or scraping. The roots also exude a sticky, milky white liquid when they are cut into.

Once the outer layer of skin has been removed the roots must be quickly covered with cool water containing lemon juice or vinegar in order to prevent discoloration. From there one popular recipe calls for boiling the roots, mashing the cooked salsify, and forming them into fritters which are then fried. All of which explains my reluctance to try them out in the kitchen.

I’ve recently noticed simpler cooking methods that involve a more basic sauteing or steaming of the salsify roots, or including them in soups or stews, so I plan to make it a point to actually try them out this season.

Black Salsify and Other Varieties

There are a few varieties of oyster plant listed in the vegetable seed catalogs including Mammoth Sandwich Island, French Blue Flowered, and Improved Mammoth.

In addition you’ll find a similar vegetable called Scorzonera or Black Salsify which has an identical growth habit. Scorzonera produces wider leaves, yellow flowers and a black skinned root, but is otherwise very similar to salsify and can be grown, harvested, and prepared in the same manner.





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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Reading Dirt April 18, 2006 at 11:42 pm

I’ve been growing salsify for a couple of years, and the trick to growing and cooking it without hassle is to grow it in soil that is deep and soft (sandy soil is good if you have it — I don’t) so that the roots grow large without splitting. Otherwise you get lots of skinny roots that take time to prepare.

But cooking — don’t go to all the hassle of mashing and making fritters. Here’s what you do: Peel or scrape the roots as you would carrots, slice them up, and drop them into a pot of water with lemon juice in it (because they turn brown quickly). Put the pot on the stove, bring it to a boil, and cook them for about 10 or 15 minutes, just until tender. Drain, return to the pot with a lump of butter, and cook a bit more until the water is mostly evaporated and the butter is melted. Add a bit of salt and pepper and serve up. Mmm mmm good! Doesn’t taste like oysters to me — more like cashews. Even my carnivorous veggie-hating son likes these.

Kenny Point April 18, 2006 at 11:57 pm

Thanks for the tips, I’ll give that a try… I’ve also seen the taste of salsify compared to artichoke hearts.

jenn April 19, 2006 at 12:57 pm

Mmm. Loving as I do a pan of saute’ed parsnip, I wonder what the salsify would do? The parsnip carmalizes a bit and comes out so lovely and sweet!

putteringaround May 22, 2006 at 4:15 pm

My grandmother & mother always cooked salsify like sliced carrots and served them in a cream sauce- I loved them as a child. Where can I find seeds?

Kenny Point May 27, 2006 at 9:43 am

Salsify seeds are not commonly found at local garden centers but you can obtain them from most mail order seed suppliers including Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Nichols Garden Nursery. If you purchased my gardening ebook you have free access to a webpage that includes a listing of numerous vegetable seed suppliers that offer heirloom and gourmet seeds of unique and ornamental edible plants such as salsify.

Martin Williamson March 31, 2007 at 10:49 pm

Where can I buy some Black Salsify seeds or plants?

Thanks Marty

Kenny Point April 1, 2007 at 10:46 am

Hi Martin,

It’s funny that you ask because I just finished planting a few Black Salsify, or Scorzonera seeds in the garden and then noticed your question. I purchased my Black Salsify form Fedco Seeds and it’s a variety called Noir De Russie Scorzonera.

Granny Annie May 18, 2007 at 9:56 am

I have several self-sown salsify plants in flower in the grass edging of my allotment. I also have some seeds from ones in a neighbours garden, and have only recently discovered what they are. I would grow them just for the sake of the flowers, but shall have a go at sowing some for the pot. Thanks for the ideas!

Flo Flo July 27, 2007 at 2:06 pm

I grew up in Belgium and eating salsify is as common as eating hot dogs in the states. We always saute them with a little butter, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
We see them most often in glass jar like beets, but I just purchased some fresh from Whole Foods.

salsify lover August 19, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Last year was my first experience with salsify. I had wondered since childhood about it and so purchased some seeds I found at a retail nursery. I got rapid, nearly 100% germination and no pest damage at any stage of growth. As to the flavor frost seems to be key: before frost the flavor was quite mild and nearly identical to jerusalem artichokes but after frost it became definitely oysterish. Has anyone ever tried them as tempura or otherwise deep-fried?

citrine October 3, 2007 at 10:29 am

Does salsify require full sun?

salsify lover October 3, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Citrine,
According to what I have read, salsify grows wild in meadows, so I imagine that they do require full sun or at least a spot that’s sunny for most of the day.

citrine October 4, 2007 at 7:58 am

thanks much, salsify lover!

Jean R Williams November 27, 2007 at 3:06 pm

I have been unable to find any seed for black salsify but am anxious to tryit I comtinue my search

Will January 6, 2008 at 7:23 am

I have been commercially growing black salsify in Tasmania, Australia for nearly 10 years with my family and wondering if anyone has some seed from “super plants” that they would like to swap or sell me? We are at altitude and find that it loves frost and we grow it in rich, deep sand which limits alot of the forking issues and makes the digging easier.

kellysgarden April 30, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I have grown black salsify from seeds purchased in Gemany. (It’s called Schwarzwurzel there, which translated means Blackroot.) I have found it to be very hardy at an altitude of 5000 feet in Zone 4 in a mountain valley of northern Utah. I had some roots stored in a plastic bag in the back of the refrigerator crisper drawer over the winter, and they are starting to send up new growth right in the refrigerator. So, I planted the roots back out into the garden yesterday, in hopes that I will get a new crop this year.

I have taken an interest in low-labor and hardy edible plants (sustainable) that have value as a “survival” crop. I think salsify might could qualify as one of these types of edible plants.

Denise Major May 16, 2008 at 9:49 am

I was digging up my allotment yesterday, and found either a parsnip or salsify. I’m thinking it’s salsify. This is strange because i haven’t sown the seed and i had the plot last year… it’s very strange. If it flowers, can i grow vegetables from them, they’re heritage plants aren’t they? not like hybrids etc?

connie May 24, 2008 at 3:59 pm

I want to purchase oyster plants seeds. Can anyone tell me where I can find them?
thanks

Patrick May 25, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Hi Connie, Baker Creek sells them at: RareSeeds.com

Luba November 30, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Today I fell in love with salsify. We stopped at a Austrian-style restaurant in upstate New York and it was on the menu under salads. It looked like white penne pasta and it was bound together by a sour cream-type sauce and sprinkled with fresh dill. It had a nice crunchy taste, somewhat like crisp asparagus, but crunchier. It was a fine complement to my dinner of schnitzel and I can’t wait to have it again. I wonder how it would grow in upstate New York?

Kenny Point November 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm

That was a good find Luba, I’ve never seen salsify listed on any restaurant menu that I’ve been in. Oyster plant will grow just fine in NY and will even winter over with no difficulty.

Tina January 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

I fell in love with Salsify in a restaurant years ago in Maryland. It was the most delicious vegetable, simply sauteed in butter and melt in your mouth delicious. I live in Arizona now and am considering ordering seeds to try and grow them in a raised bed. Thank you to all who posted sites to purchase seeds. Now I have to figure out when to plant them in AZ. The heat here in the summer is intense and I have not tried gardening here yet.

Rita Giannini February 7, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Hi,
I am looking for any Italian vegetable called “Barbe di Prete”. My mother remembers her family growing it in Upper Michigan and eating it during the fall. They all say it was delicious, but we can not find the seeds. It sounds like salsify to me, but I do not know for sure.
Does anyone know if Barbe di Prete is the same as salsify.
Thanks for any info.

Kenny Point February 8, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Hi Rita, I googled Barbe di Prete and got a lot of hits but not a single one in a language that I understand. :-) I did see the word scorzanera included in some of the descriptions, so I would guess that Barbe di Prete is a variety or another name for salsify or scorzonera.

Pennagirl March 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

My great-aunt would shred the salsify and make into a dressing like casserole au gratin…sort of like an oyster dressing without bread cubes. She peeled the roots and used the lemon juice to keep the salsify from turning brown. This is great for people allergic to shellfish and can’t eat oysters.

Sharon March 27, 2009 at 11:13 am

I’ve just read the suggestions for prep. I don’t peel it! I just scrub it real good and slice on a diagonal, then saute it up either with carrots and onions or as part of a stir fry. Salsify tastes just fine to me with the brown skin on!

A Davidson March 31, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Please let me know where I can buy seeds for salsify.

Vicki April 4, 2009 at 9:25 am

I had salsify as a child and into my adult years. My mother and grandparents grew it. We had it as a casserole. The salsify was cleaned and cooked by boiling then drained. My mother then layered it in a baking dish using first butter, crackers, canned oysters and milk. Then a layer of cooked salsify. She repeated this until the baking dish was full top layer being crackers and butter. She then baked it in the oven. It was a favorite in our family dinners and I have just ordered seeds online as I lost my mother 3 years ago. I do love the memories this dish has left on my heart.

Bill Ward October 16, 2009 at 12:01 pm

When I was a kid in the late twenties we grew and ate salisify. We would peel,slice the long way in 1/4″ thick slices,and fry. Yep,have an oyster like taste.

Kelly November 22, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I roasted the scrubbed salsify in the oven with skins on and the thinner roots became like “chips” and were oyster-ish crunchy whilst the thicker roots became creamy. We ate the skin and all. Plain with just the olive oil on it used for roasting. Blue ribbon yummy. I still have a couple of rows in the garden. May leave a few to winter over and see if I get new growth in the spring. This year’s crop didn’t flower as it was a first year crop. Completely pest free crop. I will grow more of this next year !!

ELLEN December 31, 2009 at 2:55 pm

barba di prete is Italian for priest’s beard. since another name for salsify is goat’s beard, that’s probably as close as it gets in another language.

Mu January 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Just to add to the recipes, I peel and boil, and use the part of the cooking liquid thickened with a roux (flour lightly sweated in butter, Mehlschwitze) as sauce. Great with pork chops and potatoes.

Darlene Lyons May 5, 2010 at 9:50 am

I would like to know if you have any salsify plants or do you start them from seeds? We had some some years ago and I loved them, but my husband grew them and he has since passed. I was going to try my hand at them, also where can I get the seeds? And how much are they? Do you have a catalog and if you do would you send me one? I would appreciate this very much, if you can answer my questions and help me out. Thank you so much.

Darlene Lyons

Kenny Point May 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Hi Darlene, I’m sorry to hear that your husband has passed and hope that the salsify will bring back good memories. It is best to start salsify from seed and many of the heirloom seed suppliers carry the seed. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offers two strains of salsify seed at $2.00 per pack

Barbara Elmore November 28, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I have just found a old recipe book and it was a recipe for oyster plant. I am a 71 year old lady and I have never heard of it. Is it grown in North Carolina? Nana

Kenny Point November 28, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Hi Nana, salsify is an uncommon vegetable crop but I’m sure that the plant would grow just fine in North Carolina. Now finding a gardener who is growing it or a grocer who stocks it may be a different story.

renee January 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm

ground salsify root is eaten raw , it is very tasty and it is very good for diabetes.

paul January 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm

do you eat the leaves as well?

Kenny Point January 20, 2011 at 9:55 am

Hi Paul, I have never eaten the leaves of salsify… it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that they were edible, but I can’t recommend eating the leaves from any personal experience or knowledge that I have.

Avril February 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I would like to know if it is possible to grow salsify in pots ? I tasted salsily for the first time in a restaurant in Edinburgh, loved it.

Kenny Point February 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I guess it is possible Avril, but it isn’t one of the plants that I would recommend for growing in containers. The problem is that the plant has a long root, which is the edible portion, and an even longer taproot. So you would need to use as deep of a pot as possible and it would still not offer as much depth for the plant to grow in as it would take up in the ground. If you try it let us know what kind of results you get.

Kay Donovan March 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

First time on this site – looked up schorseneren on google and found Kenny too! Flemish friends gave us some seeds earlier this afternoon – they are black salsify – so, by reading Keny’s site, I have discovered not just how to grow the plants but lots of recipes too – soo pleased.

By the way, we garden in coastal central Portugal where we do get frosts in winter even though winter daytime temps can be 20-23C.
Kay

Kenny Point March 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Hi Kay, thanks for stopping by. It’s always interesting to hear about growing conditions and plants that gardeners are raising in other parts of the world.

Jim Bertolino March 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Another source for both white and black salsify is the web site Seeds from Italy. It is one of those seed catalogs that are as fun and interesting to read as they are useful for ordering seed.

Karin April 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I noticed the comment, above, about growing salsify in containers. Recently while reading “Crops In Pots” ( By Bob Purnell) I noticed he had a technique for crowing carrots (long & slender like salsify) in containers he made from PVC pipes. He used varying diameters and heights, “painted with a suitable paint”. He grouped them together for his planting. It looks like plants growing in organ pipes. Maybe you could make this technique work for your salsify efforts.

Dean April 18, 2011 at 7:32 am

Hi. Lidl has black salsify seeds for 39p

Lori May 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Hi Kenny, I just found out about salsify root this year and ordered seeds off of ebay, got them in the ground today and can’t wait to try them out. Being from south Georgia on the coast I love oysters but you can only buy them during the cooler months. Can’t wait to try out the recipes on this site.

Maria Th. White May 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

For weeks we have been wondering what this huge plant in our flowerbed around our mailbox was. We finally took pictures and took it to a nursery to ask the experts there. Today we got the answer and after reading all the comments above, one person (kellysgarden) mentioned the German word Schwarzwurzel and boy did that bring back memories from home. I remember my grandmother fixing them with a white sauce, very delicious. I am all excited about this and whoever planted this seed among our blue and yellow pansies, thank you very much. (wind?) Now I can introduce my husband to this vegetable. I have never seen these Schwarzwurzeln as a plant before. When can I pull this plant /root out of the ground? It is still blooming and getting taller every day. I will put the seeds in our back yard, whenever the time comes and hope for it to grow real good. Thank you and God bless.

Dina Bennett June 8, 2011 at 10:27 am

My Dad is growing salsify (we call them vegetable oysters) this year and they are doing great. He planted the seeds last Fall when we planted the garlic (Upstate NY). I am researching receipes and love all of the comments and feedback found here. The best part is that I already have a market for all that we have growning! I look forward to trying some myself this Fall.

Dan H June 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

Just peel, boil until fork tender and cool. Dip in mayo – they taste just like artichoke hearts (at least to me). I used to grow them all the time in Oregon. For some reason, my garden quit producing them. The seeds would germinate and the plants would get about an inch tall and then die off. After a couple years, I quit trying. Stores no longer sell the seeds and grocers no longer have them in the produce department. It’s a great veggie and I miss them a lot.

Tamara5 June 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm

You do not have to peel the Salsify until after boiling, thus saving the trouble of the sticky sap and immersing them quickly into vineagar/lemon water.

Nadya August 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I found your site looking up Gobo/burdock – very nice!
My CSA farmers offered Salsify last year, & I just sauted it with onions & other root veggies – nice & easy! It was very good, & so pretty when it blooms.
When I was growing up East of the Cascades in Oregon, we had a yellow flowered version that we called ‘milkweed’ (because of the milky sap) & my folks had me pull out.
My former hubby is a biologist, & told us ‘that’s salsify – & edible!’ Over here in the Willamette Valley we have the purple flowered kind – I’d also rarely eaten it, but grew it a few times years ago. I got some seed from a plant close to the sidewalk a few blocks from here, & plan to plant with my fall carrots, in the former garlic bed as suggested in the Tilth guide for this region.

Vicie Bush October 19, 2011 at 12:57 am

Read about salsify in an old Dutch cook book. I am wondering if it will grow in southcentral Alaska? Our winters are long (4 months).
Would love to develop a market for it. Loved reading all the comments about it!

Kenny Point October 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

Vicie, if you can raise crops like carrots and parsnips you should be able to grow salsify as well.

Nathan Carlos Rupley July 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I’m a forager and I find wild salsify on occasion. It is smaller than the domesticated ones, but tastes great just scrubbed and boiled. You can also eat the leaves, shoots, flower buds, and peduncles (flower stems). Check out Samuel Thayer’s book Nature’s Garden for more information.

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