ENORMA SCORZONERA (Scorzonera hispanica), also known as Black Salsify, black oyster plant, serpent root, viper's herb or viper's grass, is a unique vegetable virtually unknown to most American kitchen gardeners. Despite its nickname, it is actually not closely related to salsify, though it is a biennial member of the Asteraceae family which includes it, along with sunflowers, lettuces, chicory and artichokes. While salsify is also ignored at your culinary peril, scorzonera is more refined and richer in taste, texture and actually more productive. Perhaps it is the black exterior, making it look like a mutated truffle or a rotted parsnip, or its shape -- it looks like many stick-like roots I dig up and discard in my garden -- or perhaps it is simply that we don't know about it! Grow this wonderful vegetable and your ignorance will become bliss! The roots grow 9"-11" long and produce yellow flowers. Biennial. 80 days.50 seeds.
ABOUT SCORZONERA: It is nicknamed the "oyster plant" because to some it tastes similar. To me it is simply a unique, flavorfull, slightly sweet and completely delicious delight. All parts of the plant are edible. The flowers, foliage as well as the root. A nutritious vegetable that contains proteins, fats, asparagine, choline, laevulin, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, sodium and vitamins A, B1, E and C. A good choice for diabetics as it contains fructose. The plant is also an important food source for the Nutmeg moth. Scorzonera goes back centuries to at least the 16th Century, believed to have been part of the Celtic and Germanic peoples larder, but didn't become truly popular in the better kitchens until Louis XIV of France adopted it and it went into large scale commercial production by the late 17th Century. Unlike any other vegetable in its preparation, it is delicate, crisp and cooks quickly and overcooks just as quickly. Many cooks prefer to clean with skin intact and roast it or saute in a little butter. Breading before sauteeing is also desirable. Some prefer to peel - either before or after cooking. If removing before, immerse in cold water with lemon or vinegar to prevent discoloration. If you want an easy preparation, simply clean, cut into 2" lengths that you then quarter, and sautee in butter and herbs with some shitake. You will note some sap stickiness if peeling, so that is why many prefer to cook in the skin. One note about a rather delicate subject - scorzonera does have a high amount of inulin, which may induce flatulence in those sensitive to it.
MEDICINAL: Folklorists note that Scorzonera was used for snake and other poisonous creature bites. It was also thought to help ward off the bubonic plague.
GROWING TIPS: Scorzonera seed will not keep more than a year, unlike other seeds, so plant what you buy, and save seed from that planting for next year, or buy new seed every year. The plant can take up to 2 seasons to reach its maximum size. Like all root crops, soil preparation is key. Scorzonera, like carrots, prefers a light, loose, sandy soil with no stones or other obstructions, so sifting down to growing depth is essential. Perhaps the easiest path is to grow in deep containers that you fill with the preferred pre-sifted mix. When harvest time comes, tip the pot over in the garden and voila! Plant in the spring at a time approximately 120 days from your first frost date so that they can benefit from that before harvest. Soil pH should be on the neutral to slightly sweet side, 6.5-7.0. A little potash benefits and a rich organic addition, but, like other root beds, not manure unless fully composted. A sunny position is favorable. Plant the seed liberally because Scorzonera typically has a slow, finicky germination so plant fairly close together at 2" apart.