Salsify is an heirloom plant and its root is a culinary ingredient known as oyster root for its flavor.  But, many cooks  agree it tastes more like artichoke hearts.  

Thomas Jefferson grew salsify, and it’s coming back in fashion!  

 Growing and recipes for salsify, part of the asteraceae/sunflower family, are just recently making the popular grade as gardeners and weed pickers alike realize it’s got a delicious root you can use in cooking. The leaves are also edible and best used off of young plants.

Many gardeners have considered this weed a problem for its prolific re-seeding and growing habits.  But, with new attention toward heirloom produce, this weed is now something many gardeners and organic growers are paying attention to.

I too, used to consider this plant a weed until I attended a gardening class at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia some years ago.  Since that time I have never had to cultivate this plant, because it comes up fine on its own and does very well re-seeding where I live in the Pacific Northwest.  I have used the root young and old, but prefer the younger version for its easy pulling and flavor, though the older roots are worthy too.  As Barbara Damrosch mentions in her article (below) the salsify root is best used fresh but will hold well in the refrigerator and can be dried or dehydrated.

Recipes for salsify are logical to what you may think a long carrot or parsnip would be; it can be shredded, chopped and kept whole.  Don’t let the milk which comes out after pulling and/or cutting scare you off as it quickly turns a sort of rusty color after the air has hit it.  When I pull my salsify I let it sit in a bucket of water, to help disperse the milk and loosen the dirt until I get to cleaning, storing or cooking it.

Especially good is salsify fritters.  Some of my favorite recipes come from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who writes for The Guardian in the United Kingdom. But, fritters are a fav.  Also good with salsify are soups, stews, salsify chips among many other usages.  Simple search “salsify recipes” on a search engine for more recipes.

I have included 3 of Hugh’s recipes here, along with Barbara Damrosch’s article from Jan 2012 in the Washington Post and the content of the Wikipedia page for salsify. ALL good reading, headed toward good eating!

DON’T look down on this interesting and delicious root, anymore!   It’s time Salsify was included in your purchases, gardening and culinary pursuits.  As far as cultivating salsify, it’s as easy as growing weeds.  But this post is about cooking, so if you want to know about cultivation, click here and Kenny Point will plow you through it.  Once you’re done learning to grow Salsify, enjoy, and educate yourself on Kenny’s very fine gardening blog.

Many European countries have salsify in cans available to cooks.

Like me, Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall) thinks salsify is a good root with a fine future! As I visit the gardens of friends I always make sure I inform my friends that the weed they’ve just pointed out as “pretty, but a real problem”, is a good vegetable root they can enjoy in a number of ways.  YOU can also slice and dry salsify for long storage and carrying in your backpack or camper for that yummy soup you’ll make on your next over night hike or camp out. Drying will greatly reduce the weight of this root vegetable. Below are some of Hugh’s ideas for this fine somewhat ugly, but delicious root.  The link to Jane Grigson’s suggestion for salsify is great too.  Salsify is good eating in many recipes, soups, stews, salads, and just roasted with olive oil like Hugh shares below.

CARRY ON AND ENJOY EATING YOUR WEEDS – especially SALSIFY!  – Gwen

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“The simplest way to prepare these lovely roots is to peel them, put them in a roasting tin, trickle over a little olive or rapeseed oil, add a few bashed garlic cloves and a bay leaf, and roast at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt, or follow Jane Grigson‘s excellent suggestion and sprinkle on some gremolata, that zingy southern Italian condiment made of lemon zest, finely chopped garlic and parsley. Or boil or steam them until just tender, chop small and serve with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette and perhaps a few pieces of diced ham, rather as you might with a celeriac remoulade.” – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Salsify fritters

A great brunch or lunch dish, and perfect served alongside a few crisp rashers and a fried or poached egg. Makes six fritters. – Recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

300g salsify
45g unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small red chilli, finely diced
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 tbsp olive oil

Peel and coarsely grate the salsify. Warm 20g of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the salsify until softened. Transfer to a bowl and mix with the garlic, chilli, coriander, egg and flour. Season generously, then form into six fritters. Warm the remaining butter and the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook the fritters until golden, about four minutes a side.

Salsify tempura with a spicy dipping sauce

Crisp, battered salsify is delicious with this easy dipping sauce, but it’s also great served simply with a little flaky sea salt and a few lemon wedges. Serves four as a starter. – Recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

3-4 salsify or scorzonera roots

For the batter
125g plain flour
½ tsp sea salt
1 egg yolk
175ml ice-cold sparkling water

For the dipping sauce
2 medium red chillies, deseeded, membrane and seeds removed, and finely diced
1 large garlic clove, grated
2 tbsp caster sugar
100ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp water 
About 1 litre sunflower or groundnut oil for frying

First, make the dipping sauce. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan, place over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Now raise the heat a little, bring up to a simmer and cook until reduced and syrupy, about five minutes. Pour into a small bowl and set to one side until you are ready to serve.

Fill a medium-large saucepan with water, bring to a boil and cook the salsify for five minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, then rub off the skins and cut the salsify into 4cm pieces. Whisk the ingredients for the batter – don’t worry if it turns out a bit lumpy.

Heat 10cm of oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan until it registers 180C on a frying thermometer or a cube of bread goes brown in 30 seconds. Dip the salsify in the batter and deep-fry a few pieces at a time until crisp and golden, about a minute. Serve at once with the spicy dipping sauce. alongside.

Photo Credit Bobbi Rightmyer

Salsify gratin

The perfect accompaniment to a Sunday roast (incidentally, this is different from the recipe [he] wrote for The Guardian magazine in Christmas 2007). Serves four. – Recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

The last time I cooked this – it impressed the foodie friends attending the potluck dinner we organized at a wonderful cabin in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia. – Gwen

35g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
Juice of 1 lemon
850g salsify (about 8 roots)
1 litre vegetable stock
150ml dry white wine
60g kale (or cabbage), washed and finely shredded
25g plain flour
150ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
75g grated cheddar or other hard, well-flavoured cheese
50g coarse white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6 and butter a gratin dish about 26cm in length. Put the lemon juice into a large bowl along with some cold water. One by one, peel each salsify root, cut into 4cm x 1cm batons and drop straight into the lemon water to prevent discolouring. Repeat with all the roots.

When the salsify has been prepared, drain and transfer to a saucepan along with the stock and wine. Bring up to a simmer and cook for five minutes, until tender but still with a bit of bite.

While the salsify is cooking, put the kale in a large pan with a centimetre or two of water and cook for about three minutes, until wilted. Drain the salsify, reserving the stock, and set aside. Return the stock to the pan and simmer until reduced by half.

Meanwhile, mash together the butter and flour with a fork. When the stock has reduced, keep it simmering and add the flour paste in little nuggets, whisking all the time. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens to the consistency of single cream. Stir in the double cream and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Lay the salsify and kale in the gratin dish, and pour over the creamy sauce. Combine the cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.

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Below is an article by gardener and writer Barbara Damrosch – for the Washington Post – Jan, 4, 2012 

Salsify, a root vegetable that does double duty

By Barbara Damrosch

Readers of this column have had some strange dishes offered up to them over the years. Of the lesser-known crops I’ve suggested you try, a few might not have won you over. Was the saltwort a little too prickly, the Malabar spinach too vicious? Then again, maybe you found great uses for them.I figure being adventurous in what you grow makes gardening more fun and can lead to new favorites. And the reason many of these foods are obscure may have more to do with the needs of long-distance shipping than whether they are good to eat. This is what gives the home gardener or local grower such an advantage. It might seem like the supermarkets have everything, but here’s the big secret: Potentially, you have a much wider repertoire.

So you’re going to have to trust me about salsify. This is a white root — rather like a parsnip but skinnier — that keeps beautifully in the ground. Like the parsnip, it’s planted in spring, as early as the ground can be worked, then allowed to grow all summer and fall until the first frosts bring out its flavor. You can then pull it up during thaws, saving some under refrigeration if you like, but it will shrivel a little and is best dug and eaten fresh.

When you do this, don’t be dismayed by the way those roots look. They are tan and shaggy with coarse side roots. They make me think of the tabloid headline “Movie Stars Without Makeup.” Just wait till they’re all dolled up.

The dolling-up consists of peeling them with a vegetable peeler to reveal the snow-white flesh, then placing them into a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice, to keep them that way. Or not. If you’re going to brown them in butter it won’t matter, right? And that’s just what I do with them after I’ve steamed them for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size.

I also use the greens, which look like tall, wide grass blades. The light-colored part of the leaf, the bottom six inches or so, is tender and delicious, like the bottom of a leek, so it gets a thorough washing and then a quick butter saute, along with the roots.

The most surprising thing about salsify, the first time you eat it, is its flavor. Traditionally it is called “oyster plant,” a name as inaccurate as it is unappetizing. The roots taste nothing like oysters, and nothing like parsnips either. They taste like artichoke hearts — unlike the so-called Jerusalem artichokes that are said to taste like artichokes but don’t.

This is a great two-in-one crop. Greens and roots tend to nourish us in different ways, and the role of roots is to bring up minerals from deep below the soil, especially a taprooted plant such as salsify. That’s why it’s important to give these crops a deeply cultivated soil with plenty of compost dug in. And by the way, have you ever tried two of salsify’s even more obscure taprooted cousins, scolymus and scorzonera. Are you curious?

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”

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Wikipedia page for Salsify reads as follows:

ragopogon, also known as salsify or goatsbeard, is a genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family Asteraceae that has over 140 species, including the vegetable known as salsify, as well as a number of common wild flowers, some of which are usually regarded as weeds.

Salsifies are forbs growing as biennial or perennial plants. They have a strong taproot and milky sap. They generally have few branches, and those there are tend to be upright. Their leaves are somewhat grass-like. Flower colour varies within the genus, with some yellow species, and some bronze or purple. Seeds are borne in a globe like that of a dandelion but larger, and are dispersed by the wind.

The salsifies are natives of Europe and Asia, but several species have been introduced into North America and Australia and have spread widely there.

Some of the more common species of Tragopogon are known, in the regions where they are most common, by the common names goat’s beard, goatsbeard, salsify, or common salsify, without further qualification. These names are therefore inherently ambiguous, and best avoided, or reserved for the genus collectively. In the species list below, the first common name given is the one that seems to be most widely used for that species and is not in significant use for any other species.

The vegetable called salsify is usually the root of purple salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius; the root is described as having the taste of oysters (hence the alternative common name “oyster plant” for some species in this genus), but more insipid with a touch of sweetness. The young shoots of purple salsify can also be eaten, as well as young leaves[1]. Other species are also used in the same way, including the black or Spanish salsify, Scorzonera hispanica, which is closely related though not a member of the genus Tragopogon.