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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Salsify is the edible root of the Purple Goat’s Beard plant which is native to Europe. It is a close relative of the yellow goat’s beard, which also has an edible root. Both plants are related to the dandelion and salsify was a popular vegetable in the 16th century, although its use fell into decline in the 20th century. However it has had a resurgence in popularity as people have rediscovered its oyster-like flavour. In some places it is known as the Oyster plant or the Vegetable oyster plant. It is a member of the Asteraceae or daisy family of plants, and the purple flower looks a little like the globe artichoke. In fact, it can be substituted for artichoke hearts, or asparagus. It has a nutty flavour and the root contains inulin just like the Jerusalem artichoke, making it good for diabetics.
  The roots grow in clumps and are beige-white. They are best left in the soil until you are ready to use them, but if you buy them you should use them that day, although you can keep them in a cool dark place and cover them with sand, as you might a chicory root.
  The whole plant is edible and the petals are good in salads. The root can be grated and added to salads too and can be chewed like chewing gum. You can sprout the seeds to and add them to salads or sandwiches- they are good with eggs. The flowering shoots and the young shoots before the flowers appear can be cooked and eaten like asparagus. It is said that the roots have diuretic properties, so perhaps you shouldn’t eat too many of them.
  The word salsify has an interesting history and probably comes from the Latin, solsequium or sun-following as, like the sunflower, the purple flowers turn to follow the sun. In Old Italian, salsifica was the name of this vegetable, and this means salt (sal) and rub (fricare) and clearly this is close to salsify. This salsify is said to be inferior to black or Spanish salsify, although it is very palatable.
  It has been used in medicine to remove obstructions of the gall bladder and for jaundice, and is believed to be good for sufferers of arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure.
  The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say about Purple Goat’s Beard:-
 “The virtues of this are the same as the other, only less pleasant, therefore more bitter, astringent, detersive and medicinal. This, however, may be eaten in great quantities, and so will be useful in chronic complaints. The roots are particularly specific in obstructions of the gall and the jaundice; the best way to use them is stewed like chardoons (cardoons).”
   To cook them you first need to clean the roots under cold running water and peel them, putting the pieces of salsify in cold water with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in it. You should cut them into short pieces and put them in boiling water and simmer them for about 30 minutes or until they are tender. Then drain the pieces of salsify and sauté them in a little butter. You can also then put them in a béchamel sauce and top with cheese to brown in a moderate oven. In Greece they are sometimes served in avgolemno sauce (egg and lemon sauce) and are also served cold with carrots and peas in a vinaigrette dressing. It is low in calories but contains lots of dietary fibre, vitamins B2 riboflavin, and B6, folate and the minerals potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium.
  Why not try this root vegetable and let us know what you think?

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