Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Sp. pl. 2: 791 (1753).
2n = 14, 28
Scorzonera, black salsify, black oysterplant (En). Scorsonère, salsifis noir, salsifis (Fr). Escorcioneira, escorzonera (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Scorzonera is a native of central and southern Europe. The first reports of cultivation are from the 17th century. It is grown in temperate climates throughout the world but seldom on a commercial scale; Belgium is the biggest producer with approximately 2000 ha planted every year. Scorzonera has been introduced in the highlands of tropical Africa and has been found occasionally as an escape from cultivation. It is occasionally cultivated in DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Mauritius.
Scorzonera roots are used as a cooked vegetable. They are peeled before or after boiling. In Europe, they are among the many canned and frozen commercial vegetables (‘salsifis’ in France). Young leaves are used as a salad.
The roots have been used, like chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), as a coffee substitute. Medicinal uses as a diuretic, sudorific and depurative are reported from Spain and Portugal. A mixture of latex and milk is used as a cure for colds. Ground fresh leaves are used to soothe the pain caused by viper bites.
Scorzonera roots contain per 100 g edible portion (66%): water 83.3 g, energy 113 kJ (27 kcal), protein 1.3 g, fat 0.3 g, carbohydrate 10.2 g, Ca 42 mg, P 42 mg, Fe 0.9 mg, thiamin 0.06 mg, riboflavin 0.01 mg, niacin 0.2 mg, folate 57 μg, ascorbic acid 3 mg (Holland, B., Unwin, I.D. & Buss, D.H., 1991). The roots have a subtle, delicate, sweet flavour that many find too bland. Carbohydrate in the roots has a high proportion of inulin and laevulin, which make it an important foodstuff in diabetic diets. Scorzonera also contains conopherin, asparagine, arginine, histidine, choline and several immunomodulatory substances. The flowers have an aroma reminiscent of cocoa. Oil content of the seeds is 17.7%.
Perennial, erect, branched herb up to 130 cm tall; taproot fleshy with black-brown skin, white inside. Leaves alternate, simple, long and gradually narrowed at base, linear to lanceolate, 15–40 cm × 0.5–6 cm, apex acuminate, entire or dentate, parallel-veined. Inflorescence a terminal head; involucre 2–3 cm long. Florets with yellow ligule, sometimes purplish outside, up to twice as long as involucre. Fruit an achene up to 2 cm long, with dirty white, plumose pappus.
In Europe, uses are similar for scorzonera, Scolymus hispanica L. and Tragopogon porrifolius L., all belonging to the same family.
In its native region in Mediterranean Europe, scorzonera grows in dry pastures and thickets on rocky ground. Once established, it resists drought well.
Scorzonera is best grown on light sandy soils to encourage formation of long, smooth roots. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox and the 1000-seed weight is about 12 g. A recommended plant density is 66,000 plants per ha. In Europe sowing is done in spring, harvesting in autumn. About 9 weeks after sowing roots reach their maximum length and subsequently increase in diameter. Yields of 8 t per ha can be achieved, with individual roots of 100–200 g. Roots do not store well.
Genetic resources and breeding
Several collections are held in germplasm banks in Europe. There are several cultivars available in Europe. Research in Belgium centres on breeding, cultivar selection and control of pests, diseases and weeds. A male sterile line has been patented.
Scorzonera will remain a small-scale crop for the specialty market in urban centres. The international market is restricted to canned and frozen products as fear of soil contamination prohibits imports of fresh roots.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Scorzonera hispanica L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.