On the Forage Trail: Purple Salsify
(4 December 2014)
Purple salsify, Tragopogan porrifolius, is one edible weed I am especially excited about trying, as its fleshy root is reputed to equal or surpass our domestically grown root vegetables in the taste department. I will have to hold off until late winter/early spring next year to get back to you on this claim however, as they require harvesting before maturity for optimum taste.
This mostly biennial weed, which originates from Southern Europe and Northern Africa, forms fleshy green, basal-like growth around 30cm high (also edible), before developing into a taller, more open plant of up to 1m metre. Purple salsify is easier to recognise at this later stage as it reveals large purple flowers that mature into oversized, dandelion-looking seed-heads. It can commonly be seen growing on roadsides and areas of local parkland. Ideally, harvest salsify from areas of reliable moisture with friable soil, as the root is more likely to be sweet, large and relatively free of forks. Roots can be dug out by hand, although using a hand tool is better as it prevents them snapping (what a travesty that would be).
Purple salsify is said to have a sweet nutty flavour and can be stir-fried, baked, boiled, pureed, or dried and used as a coffee substitute (unlikely in my opinion, nothing could replace this gourmet delight). Once cut, they exude a white sap then promptly dis-colour, so pop them in lemon water until ready to cook. Salsify contains soluble fibre in the form of inulin, not starch, and is therefore diabetic friendly. This forager’s delight is also known to assist in the absorption of calcium and magnesium. Enjoy!