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
Oyster 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
The 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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