In Season Now: Purple Salsify
(27th August 2015)
You may recall my discovering the edible weed Salsify flowering and seeding around Canberra last summer, and being terribly excited at the prospect of trying it when next in season. Well I have, and it doesn’t disappoint!
Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, is a biennial tuber, closely related to parsnip and originating from southern Europe and northern Africa. Both the root and juvenile foliage of this plant are edible and grossly healthy, but unlike parsnips, which can be bitter and somewhat dull (the store-bought version that is), salsify root is sweet and slightly nutty. I found the foliage chewy with a distinct crunch at the end, not unlike the stringy seaweed used in sushi rolls.
Locating salsify when it is ready to harvest is a bit tricky as its juicy young foliage blends in with the surrounding landscape; noting its location when flowering and returning the following year ensures you won’t miss out. Areas with reliable ground moisture and friable soil make for the tastiest specimens with minimal forking of the tubers. Select vigorous, healthy young plants as they equate to a worthwhile harvest and superior flavour.
When cooking, salsify tubers can be prepared as with parsnips, being particularly suitable for baking and frying. I imagine they would also be delicious dipped in seasoned batter and deep fried (if anyone tries this, let me know). They tend to discolour once cut though, so sit them in lemon water during preparation. The succulent foliage is yummy stir fried with veggies and pork or similar.
A not so gentle reminder for budding foragers: as with all foraged plants, do your research first, be in no doubt of a plant’s identity, and steer clear of areas which may have been sprayed with pesticides or be growing in other potential nasties. A great introduction to this somewhat addictive pastime is The Weed Forager’s Handbook (2012) by cool climate foragers Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland. They also have a useful website with loads of handy sources: www.eatthatweed.com.