Growing and Saving the Seed of Salsify
Latin name Tragopogon porrifolius is a bizarre-looking relative of the sunflower family also known as goat’s beard and oyster plant. Popular during the Victorian era, the strange, hairy roots have a unique taste, which some liken to that of an oyster; others consider the flavor akin to parsnips mixed with artichoke. Salsify has been regaining popularity among chefs and culinary enthusiasts in America.
This scraggly root is native to the Mediterranean. It was originally foraged by the ancient Romans and Greeks. People began cultivating it in the 1500s. It was introduced to the Americas in the 1700s, where it remained a popular root crop due to its great keeping quality. Thomas Jefferson grew salsify at Monticello, and was included in the classic cookbook Joy of Cooking in the 1930s. With the advent of modern refrigeration and the availability of perishable foods out of season, this useful root crop fell out of favor.
- Grown for its ornamental flowers
- Sow seeds directly into the soil ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart just following the final spring frost.
- Seeds take up to 3 weeks to germinate but usually pop in the first week.
Germination temperature is 60-75 F.
- This is a long-season crop that is sown in the spring for harvest in fall.
- It requires light, fluffy soil. Double dig the planting bed and amend.
- Be sure to prepare a slightly alkaline bed for these roots, which prefer a pH of 7 or above. If you have more acidic soil, you can lime the bed several months before planting to raise the pH.
- Thin plants to 2-4 inches apart and mulch with straw.
- In autumn, lift the mature roots carefully to avoid snapping them.
- Weeds are the biggest threat to a productive salsify crop. Salsify is a slow grower and can become quickly overtaken by competitors; be sure to keep up with hand weeding.
- Consistent moisture will keep roots from becoming tough.
- Avoid excessive heat by planting in partial shade. Flavor and texture will suffer in temperatures above 85 F.
- Salsify is a biennial and will send up pretty, daisy-like flowers in its second year.
- In most regions a heavy layer of mulch will work to keep plants alive until the second season for seed production.
- For those areas that experience hard freeze, dig the roots, cut the tops to 3 inches long and store in sawdust in a root cellar. Replant in spring.
- Pick dried seed heads as they mature.
- Dry out of direct sunlight for a few days.
- Salsify seed will remain viable for up to 4 years.