Salsify Roots: Patience Pays Off.

Photo of me holding a salsify flower bud.
An unopenned salsify (Tragopogon spp.) flower bud.

Salsify is an exotic biennial that has escaped from cultivation. It is covered in Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer and Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants by Steve Brill.

I easily spotted and identified a small patch of second year salsify plants early this summer while walking with my son at our local park. They were growing on a steep rocky bank, along with some grass, other weedy plants, and some blackberry brambles. They are easy to noticed at that time of year, because of their distinctive form. Second year salsify plants send up shoots with large flower buds, that eventually turn into enormous seed heads closely resembling dandelion’s much smaller seed heads.

At different stages of the plants growth you can eat the roots, leaves, shoots, flower buds, and stems. I found them too late to eat the shoots, but managed to sample a few flower buds and stems. They are a pretty good vegetable. I also saved some seed to plant.

Salsify is cultivated for it’s root, but the first year plants can be difficult for a forager to locate because they have narrow leaves that look a lot like grass. If I was going to ever try the roots, I would need to keep an eye on my salsify spot, and see if I could find any to harvest in the fall.

Photo of a salsify plant hiding.
Hiding.
Photo of a salsify plant still hiding, but a little easier to see.
Still hiding, but a little easier to see.
Close up of a salsify basal rosette.
This is what you are loking for.

After almost giving up, a couple weeks ago I was scouring the area, when I found what I was looking for, a first year plant. Just as Thayer says in Nature’s Garden, the only way to spot it growing with grass is to look for the radiating leaves of the basal rosette. Even then, it is hard to spot.

The other day I decided that it was late enough in the year to be root season, and went to the park to harvest a salsify root. I didn’t want to dig up the only one, so I decided to see if I could find another one to dig. With a little time examining the area, I discovered another salsify plant within a foot of the first one, and when I dug it up, I replanted the smaller one growing right next to it that I hadn’t even noticed.

Close up of salsify root.
The root, not a very big one.

Once I had dug the root, I took the entire plant home and cut the root near the top. I boiled the root, and let my family sample it. Everyone decided that it was good, and that the slight oyster flavor was milder than it’s nickname (oyster plant) might imply.

Photo of a potted salsify plant.
Perennialized and transplanted, we'll see what happens.

I took the remaining top 1/2 inch of the root and the basal rosette, and planted them in a pot as an experiment. I have read a few articles online about perennializing root crops by using this method, and I’m curious to see if it works.

Thanks for taking time to read my posts. Please find some time to go for a walk and see what you can find.

Nate

* My photos and text are meant to inspire you and help you learn to recognize new plants (and occasionally mushrooms and other woodland creatures), but they are not meant to be used to identify these species by themselves. I try to always reference where I get my information, but for more recommendations check out my “resources” page.

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Fall Wild Food Workshop.

Close up of a honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis) leaf.

Wilson Alvarez (of Homegrown Edible Landscaping) and I will be leading a workshop on wild foods and plant identification this Saturday, October 8th. It will start at noon at Eastern Market. The address is 308 East King Street, Lancaster.

If you are in the area and have any interest in wild food this is a great opportunity to learn. Wilson taught me a few of my first edible wild plants, really knows his stuff, and lives what he teaches.

Hope to see you there,
Nate