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Growing Salsify: Vegetable Plant Guide | Almanac.com

Salsify

Salsify
Photo Credit
ArtPictures
Botanical Name
Tragopogon porrifolius
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Flower Color
Hardiness Zone

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Learn how to plant, grow, and care for salsify.

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Salsify is a root vegetable with an appealing, savory flavor.  Learn about one of the rarer roots in the garden and try planting something different this year with our growing guide.

What is Salsify?

For those unfamiliar with salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius), this root vegetable has an off-white color and creamy white flesh inside. It’s also known as the “oyster plant,” as some folks find it tastes a bit like an oyster. Others liken salsify’s flavor to artichoke hearts. 

Salsify is a hardy biennial in the dandelion family, and in fact, the root looks much like the dandelion taproot you’d dig from your lawn. Salsify roots are typically 8 to 10 inches long and about an inch in diameter.  They have green tops, which are also edible—sweet and tender enough for a salad.

These tasty vegetables were more popular before the global food trade when they were prized for their taste and long-keeping ability. It was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day!

You may have trouble finding them in the grocery store, but they are easily grown in the garden if you have a little space. Planted in early spring, salsify is harvested in the fall through early winter, depending on your climate. 

Salsify is also an ornamental flowering plant with pretty purple star-shaped flowers! They will beauty to your veggie beds, bloom from spring through fall, and also look good in meadows.

A vegetable, medicinal herb, and pretty ornamental in one! Credit: Avoferten

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Planting

Salsify needs full sun and moist, deep soil. Good drainage is a must. It prefers slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 7 or above. If you have more acidic soil, lime the bed in the fall to raise the pH for spring planting. 

Raised beds will work fine if they are at least 10 inches deep. If yours are too shallow, you may be able to mound the soil up and plant salsify in the center to get a couple extra inches of depth. 

When To Plant Salsify

Many salsify varieties require a long growing season–up to 120 days. Plant salsify in the early spring, as soon as soil can be worked, or about 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost in most locations. If you live in hot climates, try planting salsify in the fall and growing it over winter for more tender roots. 

How To Plant Salsify

  • Either sow the seeds with bottom heat from late winter to early spring or direct-sow in light, fluffy soil.
     
  • Double-dig the planting beds and amend them with compost. The soil should be loose at least 12 inches down. Rototilling won’t get deep enough. A stout garden fork works well.
     
  • Plant seeds 1 inch apart, 1/2” deep, in rows 18-24” apart. Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout. A heavy soil crust (from drying out in the sun) can prevent seedlings from emerging. 
     
  • Seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks but often sprout sooner in good conditions. Mark the row ends with radish seeds, similar to when planting parsnips. The radishes will pop up in a few days but be harvested before they interfere with the salsify crop.
Growing

Salsify doesn’t need much attention once it gets going, and in fact, you might forget it’s there. A little standard garden care is all it needs.

  • Once they reach 2 to 3 inches tall, thin plants to 3 to 4 inch spacing.
     
  • Mulching with straw, shredded leaves, or other natural material evenly modifies soil moisture and keeps weed pressure low.
     
  • Hand-pull any weeds that get through the mulch. Salsify doesn’t do well with a lot of competition. Young plants look like grass, so take care when weeding.
     
  • Provide supplemental watering during dry spells. Drought stress can yield tough, fibrous roots.
Harvesting
  • Harvest after a hard freeze in autumn. A few frosts will enhance the flavor. 
     
  • Dig the roots like you would carrots or parsnips. Cut the tops off, leaving about an inch. 
     
  • Brush off excess soil and store in a cool, humid place. Just above freezing and high humidity (80-90%) are ideal. 
     
  • Refrigerate in an airtight container and use within one week.
     
  • If your ground doesn’t freeze solid (or until it does), you may be able to store the roots in-ground over winter, digging them up as you need them. 
     
  • If you don’t receive heavy snow cover, pack a thick layer of straw mulch over the tops to protect them. 

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Wit and Wisdom
  • Eating raw salsify, which contains levulin, can cause some folks to get gassy.
     
  • Price of seafood got you down? Black salsify is an excellent flavor substitute to make mock oyster soup. 
     
  • To keep salsify roots that pure white color after peeling, submerge them immediately in water with lemon juice or they will discolor.
Pests/Diseases
  • Weeds
     
  • Wireworms
Cooking Notes

Eat and cook salsify like most root vegetables. Enjoy in soup and stews, boil, roast, or mash. 

Baking tray with raw salsify roots, lemon, and thyme. Credit: New Africa.

Be sure first to scrub the root under cold running water, peel with a sharp knife and place in water with a little lemon juice.

We like to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes (until soft, NOT mushy) and then sauté a little further in a little butter.

About The Author

Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a flower farmer and master gardener with a passion for soil health, small producers, forestry, and horticulture. Read More from Andy Wilcox

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