These unusual root crops are rarely available in the shops so are worth growing just for their uniqueness alone. Salsify is a white root but Scorzonera is black-skinned with white flesh. They resemble thin parsnips but the flavour is considered to be far superior. Scorzonera has a delicate nutty flavour, while Salsify has a faint hint of oyster.
Soil Type: Sandy, deeply dug, loam with plenty of organic matter added.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Easy.
Type: Root Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
When to Sow: April to May
Harvest Season: October onwards.
They love a deep light soil. An ideal crop for growing in raised beds and large containers.
Salsify is actually a biennial that, if allowed to fully grow, will produce beautiful blue flowers in its second year.
As for other root crops, do not manure the year before as this can cause the roots to fork (split). The ground should also be free of stones.
Rake in a general purpose fertilizer the week before sowing.
Direct sow three seeds per position from late April to early May at 6in (15cm) spacing, and 1/2in (1.5cm) deep, gradually thinning to one seedling per position.
Don't sow too early as the seed will not germinate, and may rot and if the ground is too cold and wet.
The roots are delicate so weed carefully by hand rather than hoeing. Water well in dry weather.
Generally trouble free and easy to grow.
Harvest from mid-October. Take care lifting the roots as they are delicate and break easily.
Salsify can stay in the ground through into February or even later. Cover with straw to prevent the soil freezing, as lifting these fragile roots in frozen ground can be very difficult. Alternatively, lift them all in November and store in a box of just-damp sand.
If left in the ground overwinter the tender emerging leaves of both plants can be eaten as greens. They can also be blanched in the spring, by covering with a layer of straw. Pick and used like chicory.
Scalding the skin before peeling makes scraping it off much easier. Steam or boil the roots until tender.
Seeds of both plants are usually sold as just Salsify or Scorzonera. Individual varieties are rare but can be found in a few seed catalogues, such as:
Scorzonera 'Long Black Maxima' a modern high yielding variety that produces long, black-skinned roots with a fine delicate flavour. Good bolt resistance.
Scorzonera 'Russian Giant' is a popular variety with long, slender, black roots. The clean white flesh has a very delicate flavour.
Salsify 'Mammoth' produces long, slender, elongated white roots with excellent flavour. Available from Marshalls.
Salsify 'Sandwich Island Mammoth' is a heritage variety, producing long tapered, white roots with sweet, tender, white flesh. One of the best varieties for flavour.
Salsify 'Scorzobianca' produces slender white-skinned, white-fleshed roots with good flavour. Available at Thompson & Morgan.