Bald Head Island Conservancy

Field Guide: Salsify, the Vegetable Some Believe to Taste Like Oysters

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by Desiree Bridge, Turtle Central Assistant Manager

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) goes by many names including the oyster plant, vegetable oyster, and Jerusalem star. A  common biennial wildflower in the Asteraceae family which include dandelions, Salsify is native to southeast Europe and north Africa, coming to North America during colonial times. Early on, Salsify escaped colonial gardens to naturalize in nearby fields and, today, can even be found  growing wild along roadsides. Salsify resembles parsnips and, once cooked, the taproots are  reputed to taste like oysters.

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A cut Salsify root

It is often heavily debated on whether they truly do taste like oysters, but perhaps that debate is best left to a person’s own personal tastes. The leaves of Salsify are edible, with the flavor resembling leeks once cooked. Able to grow long after other fall plants were harvested from garden plots, Salsify appeared in early cookbooks as a reliable root vegetable to get you through the leaner times. Below are two recipes for cooking Salsify from cookbooks dating from the 1800s. Try them out and see for yourself if  Salsify really does taste like oysters! 

Vegetable Oyster: This vegetable is something like a parsnip; is planted about the same time, ripens about the same time, and requires about the same cooking. It is said to taste very much  like real oysters. It is cut in pieces, after being boiled, dipped in batter, and fried in the same way. It is excellent mixed with minced salted fish. 

The American Frugal Housewife, Lydia Maria Child, 1832 

Salsify or Vegetable Oyster: The best way to cook it is to parboil it, (after scraping off the outer  side) then cut it in slices, dip it into a beaten egg, and fine bread crumbs, and fry in lard. It is very good boiled, then stewed a few minutes in milk, with a little butter and salt. Another way  which is very good, it to make a batter of wheat flour, milk and eggs: cut the Salsify in thin  slices, (after having been boiled tender.) put them into the batter with a little salt: drop this  mixture into hot fat, by the large spoonful. When a light brown, they are cooked sufficiently. 

The American Cookbook, 1841  

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