Salsify oyster plant is an edible root with beautiful flowers.
What is it?
Tragopogon porrifolius is a plant cultivated for its ornamental flower, edible root, and herbal properties. It also grows wild in many places and is one of the most widely known species of the salsify genus, Tragopogon.
T. porrifolius is a common biennial wildflower, native to Mediterranean regions of Europe but introduced in northern Europe, North America, and southern Africa and in Australia; in the United States it is now found growing wild in almost every state, including Hawaii, except in the extreme south-east.
The plant grows to around 120 cm in height. As with other Tragopogon species, its stem is largely unbranched, and the leaves are somewhat grasslike. It exudes a milky juice from the stems. The flower head is about 5 cm across, and each is surrounded by green bracts which are longer than the petals. The flowers are dull purple, 30-50 mm across, of the clock variety.
How to eat it?
The root, and sometimes the young shoots, of T. porrifolius are used as a vegetable, and historically the plant was cultivated for that purpose; it is mentioned by classical authors such as Pliny the Elder. Cultivation in Europe began in the 16th century in France and Italy. In the United Kingdom it was initially grown for its flower and later became a mildly popular vegetable in the 18th century but then declined in popularity. Presently the root is cultivated and eaten most frequently in France, Germany, Italy and Russia. However in modern times it has tended to be replaced by Spanish salsify (Scorzonera hispanica) as a cultivated crop. Cultivated varieties include White French, Mammoth Sandwich Island, and Improved Mammoth Sandwich Island; they are generally characterised by larger or better-shaped roots.
The root is noted for tasting of oysters, from which the plant derives its alternative name of oyster plant; young roots can be grated for use in salads, but older roots are better cooked, and they are usually used in soups or stews. A latex derived from the root can be used as a chewing gum. The flowering shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salad, while the sprouted seeds can be used in salads or sandwiches.
The plant has also been used in herbalism, also since classical times (it is mentioned by Dioscorides), and is claimed to have beneficial effects on the liver and gall bladder. The root is regarded as a diuretic.
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