Plant profile: skirret

Sium sisarum. A perennial parsnip. Well, sort of.

Skirret was a vegetable that the Romans introduced to the British isles. Probably from China before the Romans cultivated this forgotten root veg. It was a favourite of Emperor Tiberius – if that doesn’t sway you to include it in your garden, well…

Skirret will reward you for siting it in healthy soil, with plenty of moisture. It’s fairly unfussy, though. Full sun or semi-shade, it will survive.

First, it sends up green shoots quite early in the Spring, then it keeps going! As a perennial with good nutrient stores in those delicious roots, it has energy to grow fast. It also likes to flower abundantly.

A harvest of skirret, alongside sunchokes.

You may read elsewhere that cutting down the flower shoots will conserve energy to give a harvest of bigger roots. That is logical and very likely true.

I can’t bring myself to do it. Look at those flowers! As a member of the Apiaceae family, it gives sprays of big umbels – smaller pollinating insects love this kind of thing. I let my plants flower and get good roots for the kitchen still.

Skirret offsets, harvested from one plant in weedy semi-shade. I seem not to have photos of bumper harvests, they go straight to the kitchen!

How do I grow it?

Skirret can be started from seed. It benefits from an early start, for cold stratification – the seeds need some cold before they will sprout. The seedlings grow quite slow and you need to watch out for slugs and snails, also providing regular water.

It can also be grown from offsets. This is what we sell. The root crowns divide each year, sending out new shoots at the side of last year’s growth; these can be teased/untangled apart and separated to make new plants.

How do I cook it?

It doesn’t take long. Just 10 minutes of boiling then you can scoff it. Or get more creative and make fritters, like in this recipe from Alison at Backyard Larder – you can omit the parboiling and of course use any kind of light batter you fancy.

Some roots have a woody core, despite efforts of plant breeders to try and avoid this. It’s not every one and there doesn’t seem to be an environmental pattern as to why it happens. For those you end up with, you simply eat the soft bits off around the core.

This plant is one of our favourites (even though we love all our plants, of course). We think you should give it a go, then when you love it, you can easily keep growing more and more. But will we ever have enough of this tasty root veg?!

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