Salsify (scientific name Tragopogon porrifolius) is a flowering plant belonging to the salsify genus named Tragopogon. This species is grown for its decorative flowers, edible roots as well as herbal properties. Salsify is found growing in wild in several places and is among the most familiar species of the Tragopogon genus. This plant is known by several common names including common or purple salsify, vegetable oyster, oyster plant, Jerusalem star or just as salsify.
Tragopogon porrifolius or salsify is a common wildflower that grows biennially. This species has its origin in the Mediterranean regions of Europe. Over the years, salsify has been introduced to several other regions such as the British Isles, especially in southern and central England. In addition, salsify now also grows in the northern regions of Europe, southern Africa, and North America as well as in Australia. It is found growing in wild in almost throughout the United States, including Hawaii. However, salsify is not found growing in the extreme south-east of the United States.
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Salsify grows up to a height of about 120 cm. Similar to other species in genus Tragopogon, the stem of this plant is mostly without branches, while its leaves are rather similar to grass. The stem of this plant yields a milky juice.
Tragopogon porrifolius blooms from June to September in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, in warmer places like California, this plant is seen in bloom from April. The flower head of salsify measures roughly 5 cm in diameter and each flower head is encircled by green tracts that are longer compared to the petals. In technical terms, this is known as ligules of the flower rays. The flowers of salsify are similar to those of goatsbeard (scientific name Tragopogon pratensis). However, compared to the goatsbeard flowers, the blooms of salsify are bigger and have a pale purple hue. These flowers measure anything between 30 mm to 50 mm in diameter. The flowers of salsify are hermaphroditic and are pollinated by insects.
Many people use the roots of salsify and sometimes even the tender shoots of the plant as a vegetable. In the past people cultivated Tragopogon porrifolius for this purpose. In fact, classical authors like Pliny the Elder have documented this use of the plant. Salsify was first cultivated in France and Italy in Europe in the 16th century. On the other hand, people in the United Kingdom mainly cultivated this species for its ornamental flowers. Later, in the 18th century, salsify also became a popular vegetable in England. However, its popularity has declined since then.
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At present, people in France, Italy, Russia, and Germany, cultivate salsify for its roots and consume them often. Nevertheless, in contemporary times, the roots are gradually being substituted by Spanish salsify (scientific name Scorzonera hispanica), which is being cultivated in various regions as a crop.
When broken the root is discolored and becomes spoilt quickly. This may happen quite often as removing the root from the soil without causing any damage is rather difficult. The root has a distinct flavour, which is akin to that of oysters. As a result, salsify is also referred to as the oyster plant. While you can grate the tender young roots and add them in salads, it is advisable that you always consumed the older roots after cooking. The older roots can be used in stews and soups. When you are using the cut roots it is advisable that you preserve their color by soaking them in acidulated water.
Salsify roots yield a type of latex, which is often used in the form of a chewing gum. You can use the flowering shoots of salsify as you use asparagus and consume them raw or after cooking. On the other hand, you can add the flowers to salads. The sprouted salsify seeds can also be added to salads or used in sandwiches.
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Tragopogon porrifolius has widely been used in herbal medicine since the ancient times. In fact, Dioscorides has mentioned about this plant in his writings. Many people claim that the effect of salsify on the liver and gall bladder is very beneficial. The root of this plant is considered to possess diuretic properties.
Salsify is an absolute nutrient treasure trove. It is packed with considerable amounts of essential minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and copper. In addition it contains a number of vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin, thiamine and pantothenic acid. This plant also has a considerable amount of protein, dietary fiber and inulin.
As salsify contains elevated levels of potassium and very little sodium, this plant possesses the ability to improve problems related to blood pressure. A single serving of salsify contains about 15 percent of our daily recommended amount (DRA) of potassium. This herb works by widening the blood vessels and lessening the pressure on our cardiovascular system. At the same time, salsify puts off the risks of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. Moreover, potassium is essential for strong bones. This essential mineral has a reputation to boost cognitive functions, perhaps owing to augmented blood circulation to the brain, which helps to promote vasodilatation.
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Salsify can aid in promoting the health of our digestive system in several different ways. One serving of this herb's roots provides us with almost 20 percent of our daily recommended amount (DRA) of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is necessary for encouraging the transport of ingested foods through the body, lessening the chances of constipation, alleviating bowel discomfort and also putting off other more grave conditions such as gastric ulcers.
Most of the dietary fiber present in salsify is as inulin, which is a comparatively rare type of prebiotic fiber. This prebiotic dietary fiber helps to promote bifidobacteria growth inside the gut. This may help in lessening the carcinogenic agents in the gut and, at the same time, optimize the effectiveness of the body to assimilate nutrients from the ingested foods. In addition, inulin also works to reinforce the immune system.
Tragopogon porrifolius contains elevated amounts of essential minerals iron and copper, which means that it has the ability to improve blood circulation. This is because both iron and copper are necessary for creating red blood cells (RBC) or erythrocytes. More RBC in the body suggests augmented oxygenation or more oxygen to vital tissues and organs, counting the follicle beds. It has been found that salsify possesses the ability to promote hair re-growth. Moreover, copper itself has been associated to enhance the strength of hair and, at the same time, reduce the chances of premature greying of hair.
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Salsify has an excellent combination of vitamin C, considerable amounts of various other vitamins and minerals, which all work to enhance the metabolic competence as well as functionality all over the body. In addition, it also boosts the immune system. Vitamin C is also useful for stimulating the white blood cells (WBC) or leukocytes, while vitamin A serves as an antioxidant. The B vitamins contained by this plant also fulfill several vital functions ranging from improving enzymatic functions to keeping the production and secretion of different hormones in control. In addition, Tragopogon porrifolius contains an assortment of diverse nutrients, which influence almost all the organ systems. In other words, salsify helps to keep the body in optimal form and helps it to carry out all its functions in the best possible way.
Together, all minerals and vitamins contained by salsify are useful in developing healthy bone tissues. Vitamin C also has a vital role in the process involved in bone development. When our bone mineral density is considerably high, we are able to avoid developing common age-related health problems like osteoporosis and also arthritis. These conditions result in bone degeneration and degradation of collagen (collective tissue). As a result, our joints lose their integrity.