Salsify: A Forgotten Root Vegetable

Often classified as a forgotten vegetable, wild salsify belongs to the dandelion family and comes from the Mediterranean region. Both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans gathered wild salsify. This pale root vegetable is one of two vegetables called salsify. Another similar but distantly related vegetable — scorzonera — is sometimes referred to as black salsify. Only white salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is salsify. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, people considered salsify a cure for snakebite. They foraged for it but did not cultivate it until around the 16th century. In the 18th century, salsify would make its way to North America with the colonists like so many other plants from Europe. Thomas Jefferson grew it in his garden. In fact, salsify was grown throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.

It has been stated that 19th century New Englanders considered salsify to be similar to oysters. This claim may be truer of black salsify (the aforementioned scorzonera) than it is of white salsify though both have been called oyster plant at one time or another. Salsify was on the menu at the famous New York City restaurant Delmonico’s during the late 19th century. 

Salsify fell out of favor in the US in the early 20th century but has remained popular in continental Europe. The root vegetables considered more visually appealing replaced it. French and Italian farmers have cultivated it consistently since the 1600s. 

Salsify flavor profile

Salsify has a mild, earthy flavor that some liken to a combination of the flavors you get from celeriac, asparagus, and artichokes. Some say the flavor is evocative of oysters but this is hotly debated in some quarters with many strongly disagreeing. Some consider the soft, buttery texture to be its main asset. 

Health benefits of salsify

Salsify has been used for its health benefits for centuries. The benefits are the result of compounds like: 

  • Minerals: Iron, phosphorus, and manganese are just some of the minerals that you can get from salsify. 
  • Vitamins: Salsify is a great source of vitamins B2 and B6. In addition, it provides a moderate amount of vitamin C. 
  • Fiber: You can get a significant amount of your daily fiber requirement from a serving of salsify. The root vegetable is also a good source of inulin. 

You can use salsify as a part of your diet to treat or prevent conditions like: 

  • Poor gastrointestinal health: The inulin in salsify may help to improve gut health. Salsify may be able to improve digestion and prevent constipation along with other gastrointestinal issues. 
  • Osteoporosis: The various minerals found in salsify can help to reverse the loss of bone density that is a characteristic of osteoporosis. 
  • Infections: Salsify’s high vitamin C content may help to strengthen your immune system to protect against infections. 

Common uses

The first step in preparing salsify is to peel it. To keep the pale inner part of the root from browning, submerge it in water to which you have added a little lemon juice or vinegar. Because of the mild flavor and relative ease of preparation, you can prepare salsify exactly like you would potatoes. Mash it with butter to make a pleasant accompaniment for a protein or slice it thinly for deep frying. You can even make a gratin with it. Unlike potatoes, you can serve it raw if you shave it and add it to a salad.