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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic Salsify, Scorzonera and Scolymus


Salsify, or Vegetable Oyster

Salsify, Scorzonera and Scolymus

Tragopogon porrifolius, Scorzonera hispanica,
Scolymus hispanica

Family: Compositae (Group 4)

Salsify is also known as vegetable oyster (because of its taste), and scorzonera is sometimes called black salsify or viper's grass. Salsify is a hardy biennial, scorzonera a hardy perennial; both are used as root vegetables, and also for young shoots (chards), flower buds and flowering shoots. Scolymus, another member of the Compositae family, can be grown in the same way, and is sometimes called Spanish oyster, but is generally considered inferior.

Recommended cultivars

Salsify: Sandwich Island (Mammoth), Giant
Scorzonera: Russian Giant, Long Black
Scolymus: none in general cultivation


These root vegetables are best grown in an open position on deep, friable and stone-free soil, not recently manured.


Dig deeply in autumn and break down the clods. Rake in a general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone (wear gloves) when preparing seedbeds.

Station sow 3 seeds 1cm (½") deep, salsify 20cm by 37cm (8"x15"), scorzonera 37cm by 10cm (15"x4") and scolymus 45cm by 30cm (18"x12"). Thin to 1 plant as soon as possible. Sowing takes place in early April to mid May. Keep well weeded and water in dry weather. Apply mulch in summer.

Production of chards

If chards are required, leave some of the roots in the ground when harvesting, cutting off old leaves 2.5cm (1") above ground level, and earth up with 12cm (5") of soil. Chards will be ready in spring.


Roots can be lifted from October on. Take care not to snap them: they will be a foot long (30cm) and brittle. They are hardy and can be left in the soil until April (scorzonera even longer). Cover with cloches, straw or bracken in October to keep the ground workable, or lift and store as for carrots. If scorzonera roots are only pencil thick, leave them in the ground until the following autumn to thicken up.

Pests and Diseases

White blister causes shiny white blisters on the leaves; growth is stunted and root development is limited. Cut off and burn diseased foliage.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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