A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl (2016)
Forgotten, Rare, and Less-Known Vegetables
Oyster Plant (Tragopogon porrifolius)
Family: Compositae: composite, daisy, or sunflower family
Other Names: common salsify, goat’s beard, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, Jerusalem star, noon flower, purple salsify, vegetable oyster
Healing Properties: maintains liver functions (tonic)
Symbolic Meaning: loving devotion to the light of life
Planetary Affiliation: Jupiter, moon
The meadow salsify or meadow goat’s beard (T. pratensis)—which grows wild in Europe and as an invasive plant in the United States—has bright yellow, star-shaped blossoms. As the blooms are only open in the mornings, the English nicknamed them “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.” The flower heads follow the sun like chicories do, making them “brides of the sun” as well. These plants traditionally symbolize the soul’s longing for deliverance, the longing for the “spiritual sun.”
A close relative of this early-to-bed flower is the cultivated oyster plant. Although ancient Greeks cultivated the delicate plant, and it was grown in sixteenth-century gardens, few people today are familiar with it; the seeds are only found in rare seed stores. Like its cousin, it also retires at noon. All parts of both the wild and cultivated oyster plant—root, leaf and reddish-purple blossoms—are edible. The roots taste slightly like oysters, which is how the plant got its name. The young leek-shaped leaves are good raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable; the buds are tasty added to mixed vegetables, and the roots can be eaten like salsify. (The wild forbear of this ancient vegetable comes from the Mediterranean area, where the sweet, milky taproot was roasted as a vegetable or added to soups.) The plant is a biennial, its roots harvested at the end of the first year. They store well in sand in a cool space over the winter. Like with so many other vegetables, European settlers brought it with them to North America, where it quickly became a weed.
The oyster plant is very nutritious. In Southern Germany there is a saying: “Habermark macht d’Bube stark” (Oyster plant pulp makes boys strong). Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) prescribed oyster plant as a liver and gall bladder tonic. (He put it under the rule of Jupiter because this planetary god is responsible for liver functions.) Culpeper wrote: “The roots cooked like parsnips, with butter, are good for cold, watery stomachs.” He also recommended it for consumption. Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) also mentioned how good the plant is for the liver, noting: “The juice helps greatly for pains in the side.”
Illustration 93. Oyster plant
Over the last century the oyster plant’s place in our gardens has been almost entirely supplanted by salsify—and wrongfully so! It’s a nutritious vegetable whose lovely blossoms should once again have a place of honor in our soil and at our table. And as seeds are available from organic seed banks and vendors—like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds—there’s no reason why the oyster plant couldn’t reign again.
Oyster Plant Goulash ✵ 4 SERVINGS
4 tablespoons butter ✵ 2 pounds (905 grams) white or yellow onion, finely chopped ✵ 6 bay leaves ✵ 1 teaspoon caraway seeds ✵ 2 cloves ✵ 1¼ cups (285 milliliters) red wine ✵ 1 quart (945 milliliters) vegetable broth ✵ 3 tablespoons paprika ✵ herbal salt ✵ pepper ✵ fresh marjoram leaves ✵ 3½ cups (800 grams) oyster plant, cubed ✵ ¼ cup (60 grams) chives, finely chopped ✵ ¾ cup (175 grams) sour cream
Warm the butter in a large pan with lid. Add the onions, bay leaves, coriander, and cloves and gently sauté, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add red wine and vegetable broth. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, and marjoram to taste. Add the oyster plant and simmer about 25 minutes or until the vegetable is tender. In a separate small bowl, stir the chives into the sour cream. Stir this mixture into the goulash and serve hot.
TIP: This goulash pairs nicely with potatoes.