Two of the lesser known root vegetables that we grow are salsify and scorzonera, these winter hardy perennials are just beginning to flower in our gardens. The salsify has a long light colored root and pretty, edible, purple flowers. Scorzonera has a dark black root and bright yellow flower heads that exude a pleasant aroma redolent of sweet chocolate... really they do.
Both roots are white inside and delicious steamed, roasted, or boiled and mashed. We don't peel ours as I think the skin, as with a potato, is most nutritious. They are both referred to as "oyster plant" but do not really seem to impart the flavor suggested in that title. They have a sweet, almost nutty taste like a sunchoke and texture similar to that of a parsnip. We sometimes eat them grated raw over a salad and also use the young leaves in early spring salads as they are one of the first greens to emerge.
I had a difficult time getting a picture of the flowers as they open in late morning and close at midday. The scorzonera in the picture above is preparing to close for a long afternoon nap.
The roots in the picture don't do the plants justice as I chose a couple of small plants. They will get much longer and at least twice as large in diameter. The roots store well covered with dirt in a root cellar but we find they are best overwintered outside in the ground. They are most interesting plants and certainly a worthy addition to one's garden.
We also grow, or I should say control the growth of, horseradish, another perennial plant used for its roots. The plant has lovely white flowers this time of year that send forth an odor that only a bee could love. The roots are white inside and depart a very strong, hot, pungent taste.
We used to savor the freshly grated root as a compliment to roast beef. Rarely eating meat anymore, horseradish has become a bit if novelty in our gardens for the time being. I am contemplating a horseradish sauce used as a dip for vegetables though. This root will lose all flavor if cooked and raw must be used right after it is grated. It does store fairly well in the refrigerator and can be grated into vinegar and stored for some time.
I originally had a difficult time getting the first two roots to take hold in our garden as they were slow to germinate. The first year I planted them nothing came up, but now that they are established all I need do is tend them properly and protect them from voles. Horseradish on the other hand is hard not to establish and spreads easily if not kept in check. All of the above roots do well in a dry climate once established. The long tap roots allow the plants to mine deeply for water making these vegetables ideal for the outskirts of the garden.