Plant Profile: Salsify

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), syn. purple salsify, goatsbeard

Family: Astraceae

Image from the Icones plantarum rariorum, edited by Nicolao Josepho Jacquin (1781-1793). Missouri Botanical Garden,

Salsify is part of the Asteraceae family, which is commonly known as the sunflower family. It is a biennial, meaning it blooms in its second year. This year the TJDG hopes to see its beautiful pale purple flowers in mid-spring and early summer. Although originally from Mediterranean regions of Europe, salsify was introduced in North America in the 1800s. Today it thrives around the country, including in Hawaii, and has spread to Northern Europe, Southern Africa, and Australia. Thomas Jefferson planted salsify, or salsifia, in mid-May of 1809. In the years following, he planted salsify in early- or mid-April.

Salsify should be planted in early March or April and harvested in October. The plant can grow to be almost 3 feet tall. The stalk of salsify is fairly straight with little to no branches. It has slender, grass-like leaves and one flower per stalk. The flowers have slender, purple petals surrounding its bright yellow stamen. From late July to September salsify produces seeds. The flower heads turn into fluffy white balls, much like dandelion heads, and the seeds are picked up by the wind.

The TJDG's salsify was direct-sown on April 9, 2011, and it has been thriving ever since.

Purple salsify is often eaten. The flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, and stem are all edible. Salsify roots look a lot like parsnips, but are said to taste like oysters. Prior to the end of last semester, the TJDG made salsify patties, a delicious and nutritious treat. Salsify naturally produces latex, a milky sap, which can be used as chewing gum. Young shoots can be eaten like asparagus and provide a sweet flavor. The flowers can be eaten raw.

This salsify root was harvested on August 9, 2011, and subsequently became "Poor Man's Oyster Stew."

In addition to its edible uses, salsify also has medicinal properties. A stew made with the roots can help soothe the gallbladder and liver. This plant is also antibilious (helps remove excess bile from the body), cooling, deobstruent (it has the ability to clear natural ducts of fluids), and slightly aperient.

Sources Consulted:

Grieve, Maud, and Hilda Leyel.  1992.  A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folklore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs and Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, by Mrs. M. Grieve.  Tiger Books International.

Jefferson, Thomas and Edwin Morris Betts.  1944.  Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766-1824, with Relevant Extracts From His Other Writings.  Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society.

Plants for a Future.  “Tragopogon Porrifolus.”  2010.  Accessed 1 Mar. 2012. < LatinName= Tragopogon+porrifolius>.

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