Salsify is a an uncommon vegetable in allotmets and home gardens, and even more uncommon in the supermarket. Salsify, however, is a super vegetable for nutrition and health. It is rich in potassium and high in Vitamin C; in a one cup serving there are only 92 calories, no fat. Salsify is high in dietary fibre.
Salsify, often called the oyster plant for it's mild oyster-like flavour, is a cool weather crop, which requires a long growing season, between 120 and 150 days.
It is a tall plant, the stem being nearly 3 feet high. The flowers are of a delicate pale purple colour. It was formerly much cultivated for the sake of its fleshy, tapering roots, and chards (young shoots) in the spring, which can be cooked like asparagus. In the garden, Salsify is a very easy and trouble free crop to grow and matures in a year, i.e. it is normally grown as an annual.
- Create the patch where it will receive full sun.
- Dig deeply in autumn and break down the clods on land that has not been recently manured.
- Rake in a general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone (wear gloves) when preparing seedbeds.
- A friable, open soil is preferable, though it will also grow on heavy soil.
- Obstacles in the soil can cause roots to fork and split.
- On a stony soil, or one made up of clay with flints scattered in it, it will not be a success, as the roots get coarse and forked. However, if a round hole about 30 cm (1ft) deep is created with a pole and filled with peat and fine soil then they can be grown successfully.
- No manure should be added to the soil, as forking will also then result, but aged compost, wood-ash, lime, soot, superphosphates, etc., may be used freely.
- Salsify prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
- Salsify has large, narrow, brown seeds.
- Salsify has no set schedule to germinate. It should sprout, looking similar to small tree twigs, within one to three weeks.
- Sow salsify as early as 2 weeks before the last expected frost in spring when the soil temperature has reached about 40°F (5°C).
- In mild winter regions, sow salsify in early autumn for a winter harvest.
- Outside, the seeds should be sown 1 inch or more deep, 4 inches apart, in drills 9 inches asunder, as early in March as possible, to give a long season for its growth.
- Salsafy seed frequently fails outdoors, unless kept wet from sowing time till the seedlings are well up.
- Seeds can be sown indoors in peat pots and then transplanted when about 7cm (3in) tall.
- Like parsnips, always use fresh seeds as they lose viability rather quickly.
- Be careful that you don’t dislodge the germinating seedlings as they look very similar to tiny twigs protruding from the ground.
- Salsify requires 120 to 150 days to reach harvest and is best when it comes to maturity in cool weather, i.e. spring planted.
- The yield is such that you should plant 10 salsify plants per household member.
- Salsify likes to take it's time growing, fast growing weeds need to be removed before they choke the vegetable.
- Keep well weeded and water in dry weather.
- Apply mulch in summer.
- Too much nitrogen will cause the roots to divide, twist and split.
- Keep salsify evenly moist to prevent the roots from getting stringy.
- Salsify thrives in cooler weather, if temperatures are very hot for several days, it is best to provide shade for the salsify. Shade during the heat of the day will improve the flavor and will add to the tenderness of the root.
- Side dress salsify with compost at mid-season.
- Manure or too much nitrogen added to the soil before sowing can cause roots to fork and split.
- For Companion plants use carrots, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes, sweet potatoes.
- Mulch planting beds with 30cm to 60cm (1 to 2 feet) of straw if harvest is planned after the onset of freezing weather.
- The roots may be lifted in October and stored in the same way as Beet, Carrot, etc., or as they are hardy they may remain in the ground until the spring.Take care not to snap them: they will be a 30cm (1ft) long and brittle.
- The longer salsify is in the ground the less it tastes like oysters.
- If chards are required, leave some of the roots in the ground when harvesting, cutting off old leaves 2.5cm (1") above ground level, and earth up with 12cm (5") of soil. Chards will be ready in spring.
Storing and preserving
- Salsify will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.
- Remove the tops before refrigerating.
- Roots can be kept in a cold, moist place for 2 to 4 months.
Pests and Diseases
- White blister causes shiny white blisters on the leaves; growth is stunted and root development is limited. Cut off and burn diseased foliage.
There are a few varieties of oyster plant listed in the vegetable seed catalogs including Mammoth Sandwich Island, French Blue Flowered, and Improved Mammoth.
In addition you’ll find a similar vegetable called Scorzonera or Black Salsify, see left, which has an identical growth habit. Scorzonera produces wider leaves, yellow flowers and a black skinned root, but is otherwise very similar to salsify and can be grown, harvested, and prepared in the same manner.