What is Salsify?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Salsify is a root vegetable native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, where it has been cultivated and used in food for centuries. This plant has also been widely introduced to other regions of the world, although it is primarily popular in Europe. Some specialty markets carry salsify, especially in the fall, when it is in season, and it can also be grown in a home garden, for people who live between USDA zones six and 10.

Salsify is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Salsify is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe.

Formally, this plant is known as Tragopogon porrifolius, and it also goes by Purple Goatsbeard and Oyster Plant. It has blade-like leaves and slender stalks which produce distinctive purple flowers in the second year of growth. In addition to the root, the greens and stalks are also edible. Salsify root has a slightly oysterlike flavor, explaining one of its common names, and the greens and stalks are mildly sweet.

Young salsify roots can be grated and added to vegetable salads.
Young salsify roots can be grated and added to vegetable salads.

There are a number of uses for salsify. Young roots can be grated and served on salads, while older roots need to be cooked to soften. The roots can be added to soups and stews, peeled and mashed, or used in root vegetable gratins. The greens can be used raw or cooked in salads and other dishes, while the stalks benefit from a light steaming or quick roasting, much like asparagus.

Depending on the cultivar, salsify may be white, golden, or black in color. As a general rule, the roots need to be scrubbed and peeled before use. The Mammoth Sandwich Island cultivar is the most popular for consumption, since it produces large, evenly-sized roots as long as it is grown in well-worked soil with lots of compost.

In the store, cooks should select salsify which feels heavy for its size. Roots should be evenly textured, with no soft spots or signs of discoloration, and they should be stored under refrigeration, wrapped in plastic. Cooks may want to be aware that salsify exudes a sticky white sap when it is cut, so it is a good idea to work with these roots next to the sink for ease of washing.

Gardeners who want to grow salsify can obtain seeds from specialty companies and some garden stores. The seeds should be planted in a prepared vegetable bed after the last chance of frost has passed, and kept moist until they germinate. It can take as long as three weeks for the seeds to germinate, and it is a good idea to leave them undisturbed until they do, as the seedlings can look like little twigs, rather than plants, and they might be accidentally removed by overzealous gardeners. Once germinated, salsify takes around 120 days to mature.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@waterhopper: You will want to plant your salsify in the full sun. Sow it in soil that is rich in organic matter well-worked to about 8-12 inches. Be sure to remove all stones and soil lumps from the area in which you are planting. Rocks in the soil can cause your roots to split. Salsify does best with a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.


@waterhopper: My first experience with trying to grow salsify was a flop. I finally went to a local nursery and asked them what I was doing wrong. Now, I have successfully grown quite a few salsify plants.

Salsify is a root cop that grows in cool weather. You should sow your salsify about 2 weeks before the last frost in spring. The soil temperature should reach about 40 degrees F. In the milder winter regions, you should sow salsify in early autumn for a winter harvest.

Salsify needs around 120 days to reach harvest. It does best when it comes to maturity in cool weather.


Does anyone know how to grow salsify?


Salsify is one of the ugliest food items I have ever worked with! Making something so ugly taste to good is a challenge for me!

I had never even heard of salsify until my sister-in-law invited us over to dinner and served it. I was there when she cooked it and it looked like a pile of black sticks. I helped her peel them and learned that you should wear gloves because my hands were very sticky and black afterwards.

The ending product was actually delicious. She made a type of white puree sauce and served it with scallops. I never thought something so horrific looking would be so delicious!

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