Salsify - [Oyster Plant,
Vegetable Oyster, Purple Salsify, Goatsbeard: Tragopogon porrifolius]
Native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, this plant has been introduced to other regions, and now grows wild in almost every state of North America (except the deep Southeast). Salsify has been known to herbalists since ancient times and has been grown not only for its flowers, but for edible roots and stems. The roots are noted for tasting like oysters, thus the alternate names.
This vegetable was popular in England in the 18th century but today is eaten mostly in France, Italy and Russia. It has, however, in recent times often been displaced by Spanish Salsify (Black Salsify, Scorzonera hispanica), a different genus with much broader leaves and yellow flowers rather than purple. The photo specimens were 20 inches long, the root parts being about 7 inches and almost 3/4 inch diameter at the top.
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Salsify roots are the parts most eaten, and taste lightly of oysters but sweeter. Young flowering stems can be cooked similar to asparagus, and young leaves are also edible.
Buying: This plant is currently not well known in North America, but can occasionally be found at the stand of a specialty grower at local farmer's markets. It should be used soon, because damaged roots are very subject to decay.
Cooking: when peeled and/or cut, roots should be immediately submerged in water acidulted with citric acid or lemon juice to prevent them from discoloring.