Salsify

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is a member of the daisy family traditionally grown as a root vegetable, but I find its uses in the forest garden are much more varied than that. Its natural habitat is by the sea and it won’t grow in deep shade, but it seems very happy to seed itself around the more open parts of the garden. It’s a biennial and dies after its seeding year, but it self seeds so effectively that once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. The seedlings are very tolerant of being transplanted, which is handy if you want to do a bit of rearranging it from where it has offered to grow. On top of their edible uses their deep tap roots mean that they probably act as dynamic accumulators, bringing nutrients up from deeper in the soil.

The leaves of salsify make a handy early salad and a component of forest garden spinach, but my favourite part is definitely the flower buds. I pick them just as they are about to open (or even a little after), put them in boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. I then drain them and add a little oil, lemon juice and salt. They taste a bit like artichoke hearts and make a nice side dish, especially with a mezze-type meal.

One slightly alarming feature of salsify is the gush of milky latex from its stem when you break it. If this is allowed to get on anything else it turns brown and clarts it irremovably. Fortunately it washes off very easily while still wet and doesn’t produce any more after the first rush, so I simply gather a handful at a time then wash the ends under the allotment tap before I put it into anything.

So long as you keep it picked, salsify has a long productive season, but if you stop picking it will successfully set seed and stop flowering. It makes a large, dandelion-like seed head with substantial seeds. These can be harvested for sprouting or for seeding into new parts of the garden.