Flora Friday: Eat This

Thanks to the contributions of two energetic people who know plants, chavezpark.org is publishing a complete botanical inventory of the park. Jutta Burger PhD is Lead Scientist for the California Invasive Plant Council, and Bob Huttar is a certified arborist and a consulting field biologist specializing in botany generally and rare plants in particular. Together they are photographing and identifying everything that grows in the park, both common and scientific names. They’ve done the scientific heavy lifting. I’m adding some background blog-talk. We’re publishing the results in a series, with a new installment every Friday.

Both Jutta and Bob were out of town and/or snowed under this week, so Flora Friday today focuses on just one plant, the very interesting Tragopogon porrifolius. Commonly known as salsify, or the oyster plant, among other names, it’s pushing its purple flower heads up through and sometimes over the tall grass in several areas of the park. I’ve not seen it before, but I don’t see everything. Here’s some views:

Tragopogon porrifolius (Salsify)

Tragopogon porrifolius (Salsify)
Tragopogon porrifolius (Salsify) with seed pod
Salsify with seed pod open, like a giant dandelion puff

If you’ve been following Flora Friday, you’re probably very cautious by now about poisonous plants. So many of the attractive looking fruits and flowers in the park are seriously toxic. But with salsify, you can relax. The plant is not only edible in all parts, it’s been cultivated as a vegetable for centuries. Wikipedia has this paragraph:

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 becomes discolored and spoils quickly if broken, which can easily happen since it is difficult to remove from the soil without damage. 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. It is recommended that when using the root that, if cut, its color be preserved in acidulated water. 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 gallbladder. The root is regarded as a diuretic.


Here’s advice on salsify from the Farmer’s Almanac. The Specialty Produce website has further information, including links to recipes. It’s said to be making a comeback in the UK, according to The Independent. Don’t be afraid to pick a few in the park, there’s no law against it and there’s plenty of them.

Links: CalFlora CalPhotos

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