Unusual Roots: How to Grow Salsify and Scorzonera

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Salsify Giant - Suttons Seeds

While lovers of root vegetables will never tire of the likes of carrot and parsnip, there's certainly no harm in adding to the repertoire. Two curiosities often overlooked are salsify and scorzonera, also known as black salsify. (Scorzonera is easier to pronounce with practice!) Both are exceptionally easy-to-grow and make a welcome change to the usual suspects.

Salsify and scorzonera are in fact members of the lettuce family, though that's where the similarity ends. These highly attractive vegetables – with their starry pink (salsify) and yellow (scorzonera) flowers – originate from the Mediterranean. As such they need plenty of sunshine to produce their long, slender taproots. Give them this and they'll reward you handsomely.


Salsify is similar in looks to parsnip: it has a long, slender taproot with creamy flesh hidden behind a tough, usually dark-tan skin. Sometimes called the 'oyster plant' because of its mild oyster-like taste, the roots can be used in much the same way as any other root vegetable – mashed, boiled or roasted. Its edible pink blooms make it a showstopper worthy of inclusion in the ornamental border. Oh – and you can eat the new shoots as spring greens, making this a very versatile crop choice!

Salsify. Photo courtesy of Suttons Seeds.

Salsify really is foolproof, being easier to grow than both carrots and parsnips. Give this Victorian-era favourite a light soil that's free draining and it will have no problem producing its parsnip-length taproots.


Reaching anywhere up to (or rather down to) a metre (3ft) in length, the thin black roots of scorzonera certainly represent value for money. Its name reflects the root's black skin, deriving from the Italian scorza negra, meaning 'black peel'. While the skin will do you no harm, like salsify it is tough and therefore inedible, so needs to be removed before eating.

Scorzonera is also easy to grow and for some palates has more flavour than salsify. Taste is subjective, so grow both to see which you prefer.

Growing Salsify and Scorzonera

Salsify and scorzonera are grown in the same way. Start by sowing seeds in spring as soon as the soil has warmed up. Sow seeds about 1.5cm (0.5in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart. Seedlings can take up to three weeks to appear, so you'll need to be patient. Once they have germinated, thin the seedlings out to leave 15cm (6in) between the young plants.

Ongoing care is remarkably hands-off. Keep weeds down and water if the weather is especially dry. And that's it.

Roots will be ready to lift from mid-autumn/fall onwards. You can leave them in the ground throughout winter where, just like parsnips, the flavour of the roots will improve with each frost. If your winters are the kind where the ground freezes solid, lift what you need beforehand and store in boxes of damp sand to access them as required.

Lifting the brittle roots requires some care if you're to avoid snapping them. Sink a fork into the ground about 15cm (6in) from the base of the leaves then ease the fork back and forth to loosen the soil; repeat on the opposite side. Work around the root like this to gradually free it from the surrounding soil. Lift the root carefully, working it out with further levering if necessary.

Scorzonera flower. Photo courtesy of littlemisspurps

How to Cook Salsify and Scorzonera

The uncooked roots exude a cloying, latex-type substance when peeled. This can quickly get unsuspecting chefs into a sticky mess – indeed, the latex derived from salsify has been used as a chewing gum! Peel the skin off both roots after boiling them for 10 to 20 minutes.

Salsify is very versatile once it's peeled. Try the roots in stews and soups. Or serve them teamed up with sautéed garlic, a generous handful of parsley then finished off with a touch of cream and a pinch of nutmeg.

Roll out the red carpet for scorzonera by presenting it just like that early summer delicacy, asparagus. Coat the peeled, cooked roots in a velvety hollandaise or white sauce. Or try the roots battered and deep fried for an unusual but no-less-agreeable treat.

If you have grown salsify and scorzonera before, drop me a comment below to let me know which you prefer and your favourite ways of cooking with them.

Photographs courtesy of: Thompson & Morgan, Suttons Seeds, littlemisspurps

By Benedict Vanheems.

Plants Related to this Article

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"How about skirret? Grown as a root vegetable, cluster of sweet long white roots. Raw it is similar to carrots and parsnip. Cook like beets, boil, stew or roasted for soups and stir fry. Used as sweet flavor in fritters and pies like carrot. Harvest after light frost for the most satisfying flavor. Native to China, skirret arrived in Europe during classical times, probably brought to the British Isles by the Romans. It featured in monastic gardens but became popular in medieval times and was used a lot in Tudor cookery."
Caroline on Friday 3 April 2015
"Hi Caroline. Thanks for sharing this. Yes, skirret is another option for unusual root vegetables. It would be great to grow something with such a history to it too."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 5 April 2015
"I am attempting to grow the salsify in a hyroponics garden for a class project. Do you have any pointers for me on how to get it to grow."
Jenna on Tuesday 21 February 2017
"Hi Jenna. I've never tried to grow salsify hydroponically. I would imagine it might respond in a similar way to parsnips or carrots to this treatment, so any advice you can find on growing these crops hydroponically would probably fit - though I have to confess to being uncertain on this, sorry!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 22 February 2017
"We love to eat the unopened Salsify buds in the spring, they have the texture of asparagus, but taste somewhat like okra, only without the slime! Delicious! Can you also eat the spring buds of Scorzonera? "
Terri HarpLady on Saturday 18 March 2017
"I haven't tried that Terri - will have to give it a go! I've never tried eating the buds of scorzonera either I'm afraid."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 March 2017
"Hi, I grew salsify and scorzonera a long time ago. The latter was easy to grow, but salsify is far better tasting. In my view, the best way to cook it is to boil it for 25 mins and serve it with a butter substitute (I'm vegan). It's too nice to be put in other things, like stews. I tried to eat the spring greens, but found them totally inedible, contrary to what other sources say. I think the roots taste like artichoke hearts. I would also mention that again, contrary to what other people say, scorzonera is a perennial, not that it makes it any better!"
Pete on Thursday 26 October 2017
"Thanks for the feedback Pete. I'll have to try your way of cooking it next time I grow it. A hearty, steaming salsify mash sounds - perhaps with a grind of the peppermill? - sounds sublime!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 27 October 2017
"I used to grow salsify but havent for years. Now I'm retired I will give it another go. I always used to peel it in a bowl of water to stop the resin sticking to your hands. I was told (in France) to whisk about a level desert spoon full of plain flour into the cooking water to take away any remaining taste of the resin. Then chop it into 2 or 3cm lengths and boil for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness. Drain and store in fridge. For best results just saute in butter with black pepper, dont waste it in stews."
Pete on Wednesday 7 February 2018
"That's brilliant advice Pete, thanks so much for sharing. I will definitely have to try this."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 9 February 2018
"Very helpful article! I saw seeds for Scorzonera for sale on a gardening seed site, and it was very interesting looking, but I had never heard of it. I was searching for some background about it and I found article. I'm now also excited to try salsify:-)"
Nick on Tuesday 3 April 2018
"I hope you enjoy it!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 3 April 2018
"Any suggestions on what scorzonera is a good (or not good ) companion plant for?"
Ana on Sunday 29 April 2018
"I have read that scorzonera potentially repels carrot fly, so carrots could be a good companion plant. Also turnips, swede/rutabaga, turnip and potatoes."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 April 2018
"In the Netherlands I ate scorzonera regularly. They are called kitchen maid's disaster (keukenmeid verdriet) because the mess it makes peeling them. Keep the peeled ones in water with a bit of milk... that way they don't discolor. My mum prepared them by parboiling in the milky water and then place them on a plate in the grill covered with parmesan cheese till the cheese is golden brown. Yum! I now live in Australia and will look for a way of growing some. Thanks for the article!"
Bart on Tuesday 15 May 2018
"Hi Bart. Thanks for sharing your cooking method for scorzonera - a great idea!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 15 May 2018
"I'm growing scorzonera for the first time this year and had just about given up on them germinating, but now I've read that they can take as while I have renewed patience for them. Interesting article, thank you for sharing this info."
Liz on Thursday 14 June 2018
"Hi - liked the article. I've grown scorzonera for several years. These are perennial plants and there are a couple of great ways to have your roots and eat them. The first is to replant the offsets - the leafy buds at the top of the root. When I harvest the root in spring these are easily snappped off and pushed back into the ground. I've had about an 80-90% success rate with these taking and of course each root I harvest gives several offsets so that there is a net increase in stock. The second came about by accident but has been working for 3 years now. At first I had to dig down 2 foot to harvest a root and the thing still snapped off at the end. The following year it had regrown and put out a lot of new leaf growth. In autumn I harvested that root again (and replanted offsets). The following year it regrew and I harvested that again. This year I harvested it yet again and one of the replants is already regrowing. The offsets from these and other plants have now been given a permanent perennial bed where I plan to leave partial roots in when I harvest so that they regrow (any resulting gaps to be replaced with offsets later on). "
Jasons Jungle on Tuesday 19 June 2018
"This is really insightful Jason, thanks for sharing your experiences. It's good to be able to plant offsets like this rather then re-sow all the time."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 June 2018
"My salsify flowered and ripened seeds in its second year. I've collected some of the seeds. Is there any difference in the culinary quality of the roots of second year plants, compared to first year plants? Would roots dug in the first year of growth be any different than second year in cooking or eating quality?"
Joe Wiercinski on Sunday 1 July 2018
"Hi Joe. Like carrots and parsnips, the roots could potentially be a bit tougher/woody in their second year. But give them a try as you may find they're still very palatable."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 2 July 2018
"Thank you, Ben."
Joe Wiercinski on Tuesday 3 July 2018
"Thank you for the info. I planted scorzonera about 4 weeks ago and haven't seen any germination yet. Could it be because I got it in so early in the spring? Your comment about its slow germination is giving me hope!"
Kathy Buxton on Sunday 5 May 2019
"Yes, it could simply be that the soil is still quite cool and they are yet to germinate. Hang on in there for another week or so!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 7 May 2019
"I planted salsify at the start of May. It's now end of June and nothing grew except teasels and broadleafed plantain. There's some grass coming up which I keep hoping may be the salsify, but it's just grass. The ground is clay and I have no sand or manure, but the plant grows in another plot up the hill. So much for foolproof and easy to grow."
PJ Lightning on Friday 28 June 2019
"The seeds of scorzonera do not store well and the first batch of seeds I bought did not germinate at all. The replacement seeds the company sent me germinated very quickly with a good germination rate."
Lynn on Friday 28 June 2019
"I sowed some salsify seeds but don't know what it looks like when it germinates so I can only take out obvious weeds. ?Where can i find pictures of young plants?"
Mary Fisher on Saturday 29 June 2019
"Salsify seedlings look like little clumps of grass. If you search 'salsify seedlings' on Google or Bing images, then you'll see some good examples."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 July 2019
"These plants both sound very cool, and I'm fascinated by the idea of a slight oyster taste of salsify. I actually was surprised that neither of these root vegetables are available on the Garden Planner, because I first heard of them on the Grow Veg Youtube channel. I hope they might be included in the future."
Sarah on Monday 13 April 2020
"Thanks for that Sarah. We haven't included them on the Garden Planner yet, as they are still rather niche. But maybe this will change in the future - they deserve to be more popular and widely grown."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 April 2020
"Thank you for the helpful information. I am about to sow both salsify and scorzonera seeds in my container garden and was trying to get a feel on how wide and deep the grow bag needs to be, so this was helpful. I want to use the oyster flavored root in gumbo for a hopeful seafood-ish flavor (I'm vegan). "
Lisa on Friday 6 November 2020
"Hi Lisa. That sounds like a great idea - I hope it works out. Let us know how it goes."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 9 November 2020
"Scorzonera black skinned root. Yellow flowers and seed heads that look like dandelions. Grows to a height between 0.6 - 1.4 meters. Quite floppy and straggly plant with narrow pale green leaves. Seeds incredibly easy to collect. Make sure they are sown by early summer if the following year. If go to seed early, by late June early July, usually from plants that have over wintered. Try sowing seed then. Plants will over winter. Soil preparation. Dig well and deeply, 0.7 meters. Good idea to sieve soil into trench to avoid roots forking and twisting, I’ve had examples where the roots have grown round in a full circle! If you collect your own seed you can be extravagant and sow thickly in a line about 5mm deep. I’ve never bothered to clean the pappus, that’s the fluffy bit that carries the seed on the wind, off my seed. When the seed germinates it will appear like a miniature grass hedge. Start thinning. If left unthinned the roots are crowded and barely reach the thickness of one’s little finger and rarely grow beyond 10 to 15 cm. if thinned to about 15cm apart and in deeply dug soil can come out about 5cm in diameter and 60cm long at that width. I find digging down a meter or more beside the roots a pain to get the thinner part. Salsify is white skinned root. The leaves on the plant look more refined and “genteel” than salsify. The roots have never been anywhere as long or thick as scorzonera. The flower is gorgeous, looking like a purple dandelion. The seed head is the same as the dandelion which makes collecting the seed easy. In my experience neither plant is affect by pests of any kind. The only “disease” is a tendency to get mildew. Both plants when mature are very straggly and unkempt looking and easily knocked about by wind and heavy rain which doesn’t do any damage but I think if it has been wet then there is a greater propensity to get mildew. The mildew doesn’t affect the root in any way but may spread to other plants susceptible to mildew."
Alpin McGregor on Saturday 13 March 2021
"I grow this and Burdock root in 'grow boxes'. 4 2x4 posts about 3-4 feet tall, and whatever planking I can find cut into 3 foot lengths, build a tall box. (use galvanized screws) fill with a loose soil/compost. plant your roots. when it's time to harvest, unscrew the sides. perfect long roots. Great for sweet potatoes as well.... one year I grew potatoes in them,,(not quite as tall) adding a layer of planks and soil as the plants grew to 'hill them; I've seen the same done with a stack of old tires, but prefer the wood myself. the third year mice moved in and ate the whole crop from the bottom up. wow. building new boxes this year with hardware cloth on the bottom. Peace from Boston -John"
john on Saturday 13 March 2021
"Hi Alpin and John. Thanks so much for your detailed descriptions of growing these roots - that's really helpful and good to have personal insight. I love the idea of the grow box - an ingenious way around digging out the long, fragile roots."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 15 March 2021
"I planted scorzenera last year for the first time, and this spring has been unusually cold and wet. Now it's May 24 and it looks like my scorzenera is trying to go to bud and flower already. Is that possible? I'm not sure if I should harvest them ....would they be woody if they've started to go to seed ? Thanks for any advice ! "
Adrienne on Wednesday 25 May 2022
"Hi Adrienne. Scorzonera can actually be left in the ground for quite long and still be good to eat. One of our team members left her crop in the ground for more than a year. She found that the roots it produced were a bit small the first winter after harvesting, so left the remainder of the crop in the ground for an extra year. While the plants flowered the following summer, she still harvested roots of a good size that were not woody at all by the following winter."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 27 May 2022
"I planted Salsify in Spring 2022 in reasonably well prepared soil, not sandy but not clay either. I've just lifted four roots and they're pathetic specimens, more hair than anything else, the longest being about 6 inches. Lots of branches. What did I do wrong?! "
Charlie on Friday 24 February 2023
"Hi Charlie. I guess the growing conditions weren't ideal for them - the salsify survived but didn't thrive. Was the area in full sunshine? They do like a lighter soil, so perhaps it may have been a bit too clayey? I would perhaps try again in a new patch of ground - and keep plants watered in dry weather to help them along."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 2 March 2023
"Belated comment as this has been going for 8 years (!): Salsify shoots in March and April are delicious. I'm eating them at the moment in salads. I could possibly have started in February if I'd noticed their progress. Hopefully the 'beheaded' plants will grow back OK. Also it seeds around with no trouble. If I want heavier self-seeding I take a few seedheads and manually scatter the seeds where I could do with more plants in future. I haven't grown scorzonera for 35 years but I'll start again this year or next. Perennials and annuals/biennials which self-seed are so much less trouble than normal annual vegs. "
David on Tuesday 11 April 2023
"Totally agree David. Great that you'll be trying scorzonera again after so long. "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 14 April 2023
"In my experience (Northern England, heavy clay) salsify self-seeds prolifically! This isn’t a problem as it’s so tasty - I harvest the whole thing and just chop off the tough leaves, everything else is very edible. You can remove the peel by scraping it under a running tap, which largely avoids the latex issue, and means smaller roots are easy to deal with and cook whole if the plants have seeded where they’re not wanted. Agree that the unopened flower buds are lovely too. My experience is that salsify is generally quite short lived - maybe only 2-3 years, although this may be extended by removing all the flowers? Scorzenera is much longer-lived and if you don’t disturb the roots (just harvesting leaves and flower buds) then it bulks up quite a lot. To harvest the root, I dug the plant up. Took about 2/3 from the bottom of the root and replanted the rest. This grew really successfully, even though the position is a bit shady. Scorzenera doesn’t self-seed here though, it seems to need a bit more warmth to germinate (in pots inside) - so the plants are more precious. I haven’t tried ‘root pruning’ with salsify as I have so many plants it’s unnecessary Thankyou to everyone sharing their experiences and cooking tips - really interesting"
Sally on Sunday 5 May 2024
"Thank you Sally for sharing your thoughts on salsify and scorzonera. It's great to hear about examples like this from different growers. :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 7 May 2024

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions