You may be seeing large purple flowers popping up in your landscape each spring. Frequently considered weeds, the oyster plant offers delicious roots, shoots, and flowers.
The oyster plant (Tragopogon porrifolius), also known as salsify, purple salsify, Jerusalem star, or goatsbeard, offers lovely spiked purple flowers each spring morning, tucking themselves discretely away by early afternoon. [The names goatsbeard and salsify are applied to other species, as well, so we will avoid using them here.] The oyster plant is a member of the sunflower family.
Oyster plant description
Oyster plants are a biennial wildflower/vegetable. Originally from the Mediterranean, this plant is now found around the globe. This plant starts out looking much like grass, with straight blade-like leaves. A central stalk emerges that can reach 4 feet in height, though they are normally half that height. If damaged or broken off, a milky white sap, or latex, is seen. The taproot looks much like a white carrot. Large purple flowers can be 2 inches across. Behind each flower head, you will see green spikes that are longer than the flower petals. These spikes are ligules of the ray flowers (petals). Flowers are both male and female. Pollination is performed by insects. These plants, similarly to dandelions, produce seeds that are actually dried fruits surrounding the seed. These seeds are known as achenes. Oyster plant seed heads look much like dandelion seed heads, only bigger.
Edible roots, shoots, and flowers
This plant has been used for food for over 2,000 years. As a food, this plant has gained, lost, regained, and lost again its popularity. All parts of the oyster plant are edible. It is a mild, slightly oyster-tasting vegetable, hence the name. Once broken, the root tissue will become discolored and quickly spoil if not eaten soon after. This process can be slowed if the root is stored in water with a splash of vinegar. Young roots can be grated into salads, while older roots are cooked into soups and stews. Oyster plant latex can be used to make a chewing gum. Edible flowers can also be added to salads, and young floral shoots can be treated the same way you would use asparagus. Even the achenes can be sprouted and added to salads.
Rather than yanking this plant out of your landscape as an unwanted weed, take advantage of its ability to grow without any help from us, savor its delicious taste, and enjoy the lovely blooms while they last.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!