Spanish Salsify

Scorzonera hispanica

Herbs gallery - Spanish Salsify

Common names

  • Black Oyster Plant
  • Black Salsify
  • Scorzonera
  • Serpent Root
  • Spanish Salsify
  • Viper's Grass
  • Viper's Herb

Truly speaking, Spanish salsify, also known as black salsify, does not belong to the salsify genus (Tragopogon). Nevertheless, this plant has a close relation with this genus. In fact, black salsify is also referred to as Scorzonera root. This plant is actually a cool season crop, mainly for its long, blackish-brown roots, whose color is creamy white inside. Black salsify is a very healthy winter vegetable that remains fresh throughout the winter provided their roots are harvested properly and stored in a cool place away from light.

Yellow ray flowers adorn the heads of the Spanish salsify plant. The tap root of this species is very slender, measuring one meter in length and about 2 cm (0.8 inches) across.

Spanish or black salsify blooms during summer between June and September, while the seeds of its fruits ripen between July and September. The flowers of this plant are hermaphrodite in nature. In other words, the male as well as the female reproductive organs are present in the same flower. Insects pollinate the black salsify flowers.

Parts used

Whole plant.


Spanish salsify plant possesses an abundance of a variety of nutrients, especially essential minerals like iron and copper. For instance, 100 grams of raw black salsify supplies us with about 20 percent of our daily recommended allowance (DRA) of iron. This essential mineral is vital for keeping our hair follicles healthy, as it helps the blood to carry sufficient oxygen to the scalp. Findings of a scientific study have suggested that presence of poor iron levels is one of the most common reasons for hair loss among pre-menopausal women.

In addition, it is also known that copper possesses the ability to fight hair loss, while promoting healthy hair growth. At the same time, it is believed that copper helps to make the hair stronger, its color more intense and also put off the hair from becoming grey prematurely. For instance, a 100 gram serving of black or Spanish salsify supplies us with almost 6 percent of our daily recommended allowance of this essential mineral.

Apart from iron and copper, Spanish salsify also contains significant amounts of vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis. In fact, collagen is useful for keeping our hair healthy and, at the same time, stimulating the blood vessels present in our scalp to carry more oxygen to the region, thereby making the hair follicles stronger. In addition to these, vitamin C also helps to facilitate the body to absorb iron from the ingested foods.

It has been established that the black salsify is among the best available dietary sources of inulin, a compound described as a form of prebiotic fiber offering numerous health benefits. Most of the health benefits offered by inulin are said to be due to the compound's ability to stimulate bifidobacteria growth inside the human body. Precisely speaking, bifidobacteria are rod-shaped, anaerobic bacteria which reside in the large intestine of nearly all mammals, together with humans. Bifidobacteria are very useful for promoting the health of humans, because they possess the ability to lower harmful bacteria concentration as well as reduce production and secretion of carcinogenic enzymes said to be responsible for causing cancer in the intestines. At the same time, these bacteria are effective in treating constipation and also influence the immune system in a positive manner.

In addition to the above mentioned nutrients contained by black salsify, this species is also a wonderful source of thiamine. For instance, 100 grams of raw Spanish salsify offers about 0.12 mg of thiamine, which is roughly 9 percent of our daily requirement of this valuable micronutrient. It has been found that thiamine performs a very vital role inside the human body. In the absence of this important micronutrient, our muscles as well as the nervous system will fail to work at their optimal capacity.

Moreover, thiamine also plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates in our body. In addition, it also performs an important part in hydrochloric acid production in our stomach. Hydrochloric acid is responsible for changing pepsinogen to pepsin - the enzyme which is responsible for breaking down proteins into simpler and smaller units that are called peptides. Subsequently, our body absorbs peptides from the intestines and passes the compound to the blood stream. Aside from playing an important role in boosting metabolism of protein, enough amounts of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach helps to control the random bacterial growth inside the gut.

As one grows older, the amount of hydrochloric acid present in the stomach reduces, making digestion of some ingested foods difficult. Hence, people enduring such problems, especially the aged people, may try using black salsify as well as other vegetables that help in boosting hydrochloric acid production in the stomach.

The amount of potassium present in black salsify is equal to that found in bananas, which are known to contain high levels of this vital mineral. Usually people fail to see the importance of including sufficient amount of potassium in their diet, but this micronutrient is essential to ensure that our muscles function properly, which also includes the heart muscles. Moreover, taking a diet containing rich amounts of Spanish salsify as well as other potassium-rich foods will also help in ensuring that you have stronger bones, thereby reducing the chances of developing osteoporosis. It is believed that foods rich in potassium content like black salsify are especially beneficial for people who generally do not consume much salty foods.

When our body does not produce sufficient amounts of collagen to facilitate cell regeneration, our skin starts aging. In fact, our body produces lesser and lesser collagen as we grow older and we need sufficient amounts of vitamin C in order to counterbalance this process. Moreover, our body also depends on vitamin C for absorbing iron from the ingested foods.

Thiamine is found in abundance in black salsify root. This is vital for the muscles as well as our central nervous system. In addition, this herb also helps to stimulate the body to produce hydrochloric acid, which is essential for maintaining the balance of bacteria in the gut.

Culinary uses

Various parts of the leaves, flower buds and root of Spanish salsify are edible. The root of this plant has a sweet and pleasant flavour. Generally, the root is consumed after its growth during the first year. However, the roots of this plant can be grown for another year even as it will not become tough. The root contains rich amounts of inulin, a starch that humans are unable to digest easily. As a result, inulin passes right through our digestive system unchanged and eventually excreted. In fact, presence of inulin in the digestive system can cause flatulence in some people. The leaves of black salsify are consumed raw. The young, soft shoots of this plant are generally consumed during the beginning of spring.

The flower buds of Spanish fly are also consumed raw. Usually they are added to salads. Even the petals of this plant have a unique flavour and you can also add them to salads. The root is roasted and often utilized as a substitute for coffee.

Habitat and cultivation

Spanish or black salsify can thrive on any type of soil. It is also able to tolerate sun or partial shade. More often than not, this species is grown for its roots, which are edible.

Spanish salsify is commonly cultivated from its seeds. The seeds should be sown in situ during spring. In case the weather conditions in your region are arid, it is advisable that you water the seeds properly before sowing to ensure that they germinate on time. Not treating the seeds may delay the germination period. You can sow the seeds in situ in August.

Black salsify can also be grown by division undertaken in autumn. You may also undertake division in spring at the onset of the new growth season. If the divisions are large, you can plant straight away them into their permanent positions. However, if the divisions are small in size, it is best to grow them in pots in a cold frame positioned in somewhat shaded places. You can plant these small divisions outdoors when they have become well established.


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