Salsifies – Tragopogon SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Oyster of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

Salsifies are edible and medicinal plants that look like taller, fluffier versions of dandelion. Their giant seed balls resemble dandelions too. They’re a non-native plant in Ontario and part of the sunflower family.

In the reference book Haliburton Flora you’ll only find goatsbeard (tragopogon dubius), better called yellow salsify (there are unrelated plants called goatsbeard). But we have also have meadow salsify (tragopogon pratensis). The same two are in Algonquin park as well.

Yellow salsify was uncommon, but going off the frequency I see it along roadsides, it’s probably common now. They are most notable in seed with their beardlike seed heads many times the size of a dandelions. Big as your hand! They are members of the sunflower family and it shows, they kind of look like young sunflowers:

Salsifies - Tragopogon SPP.
Salsifies – Tragopogon SPP.
Salsify in seed
Salsify in seed

Edible Uses of Salsifies

Some may be familiar with the cultivated vegetable “salsify”. We’re in the same genus here. The veggie salsify is from purple salsify (tragopogon porrifolius) and the root is the crop. It tastes kind of like oysters meet parsnip. It’s hard to find these days, but was popular in Victorian times.

For yellow and meadow salsify, the tender young leaves can be eaten raw. If they’re too bitter boiling can help.

Their roots are smaller, fibrous and less palatable than their cultivated cousin. You can still harvest them before flower stalks appear, and they can be washed, peeled and eaten raw or cooked. Boiling bitter old roots in a couple changes of water can make them more palatable. These tough roots are better suited to drying, then roasting until dark brown for a coffee substitute.

Tender young buds and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked as well. Young stalks and root crowns can be prepared like asparagus. And even the seeds can be sprouted.

Salsifies - Tragopogon SPP.
Salsifies – Tragopogon SPP. with spreading dogbane in background

Medicinal Uses of Salsifies

Salsify is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Diuretic and Stomachic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes a root extract used for heartburn and indigestion. Yellow salsify (pratensis) is preferred.

Alternative Uses of Oyster Plant

The rubbery sap can be collected, dried and rolled into balls to be chewed like gum.


Growing Tragopogon SPP.

Since it’s not a native plant and is invasive, native sunflowers are the closest match that is beneficial to all. There is the native woodland sunflower (helianthus strumosus). The type of sunflower most would picture is an annual, and while not native, it’s not invasive. Silphiums are look-a-likes too and make a great native alternative to salsifies. Native silphium in Ontario include cup plant (silphium perfoliatum) – which is quite the spreader, compass plant (silphium laciniatum) and prairie dock (silphium terebinthinaceum). You can find some pictures of these here:


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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