Spanish salsify (Scolymus hispanicus)

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Botanical name: Scolymus hispanicus L.
Family: Asteraceae = Compositae
Common names. English: Spanish salsify, Spanish oyster plant, common golden thistle; Spanish: cardillo, cardillo de comer, cardillo de olla, cardillo bravío, cardo lecher, cardón lecher, cardón lechal, lechocino, cardo zafranero; Catalan: cardet, cardelina; Basque: kardaberaiakca; Portuguese: cardo de ouro, cangarinha

Properties and uses

The Spanish salsify plant has been recognized as having antisudorific and diuretic properties. The Greeks knew it and it is mentioned by Theophrastus. Pliny makes reference to it and considers it an antiperspirant. However, it is barely mentioned by Andalusian agronomists. The translator of an anonymous Hispano-Arab document of the eleventh and twelfth century interprets that silyan and adaliq, spiny plants which people collect among wild vegetables, are indeed Spanish salsify, Scolymus hispanicus.

Although it has been cultivated occasionally, at present it is clearly in recession. Most of the Spanish salsify that is eaten comes simply from collecting the wild plant.

Several parts of the plant have a fairly delicate flavour. The young basal leaves are eaten as a vegetable in salads, boiled, in soups, stews, omelettes, etc. The most pleasant part of the leaf is the central rib, a white fleshy part which is obtained by peeling the leaf, with a scraping movement with one hand from the base to the apex, while the other hand holds the base. The young stems are used in a similar way. Font Quer (1990) mentioned that this plant is appreciated in almost all of Spain's provinces and "...is used widely in stew during the spring". In the sixteenth century in Salamanca, the washed young plants used to be eaten with their root, either raw or in stews with meat. In soup, its roots are prepared with milk, butter and flour.

Botanical description

Spanish salsify is a biennial or perennial plant, which is erect, contains latex and is very spiny. The stems are between 5 and 250 cm long, branched at the top, with discontinuous spiny, dentate wings. The basal leaves are oblonglanceolate, smooth, pinnatisect, with few spines, and a long petiole. The caulinar leaves are rigid, coriaceous and spiny. The capitula have one to three golden-yellow, enveloping leaves; they are about 3 cm long, in a lateral or terminal arrangement and surrounded by an involucre of spiny bracts. The achenes are 2 to 3 mm with a pappus that has a short corona. It flowers from May to July. The plant is propagated from seed, which has a very good germination capacity for several years and does not exhibit any marked dormancy phenomena. It is a diploid plant: 2n = 2x = 20.

Ecology and phytogeography

Spanish salsify is found on waste ground and uncultivated land, among rubble, in ditches and along paths; it is most frequently found in sandy places in temperate zones.

Distributed through southern Europe and North Africa, it extends to northwestern France. Vavilov (1951) pinpoints its origin as the Mediterranean region. In Spain, it grows wild in most of the country but shuns high mountains; it is less common in the north. It is also found in the Canary Islands.

It is occasionally cultivated in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Greece and the Maghreb; it is practically unknown in the United States.

Genetic diversity

There is considerable variability in the morphological characteristics of Spanish salsify such as hairiness, leaf morphology and involucral bracts, receptacular scales, spininess, etc.

No definite cultivars exist; it is still possible to obtain a few cultigens, although there is a serious risk of losing these materials.

There has been no significant activity in collecting or conserving genetic resources of this species.

Cultivation practices

Spanish salsify is a very hardy plant, is resistant to cold and thrives on all kinds of soil, although it prefers light-textured soils that are rich in organic matter. Its cultivation requires very little care.

Sowing is direct and is carried out in late winter or in spring. A light, well-drained, manured soil should be used. It can be sown in furrows, 30 cm apart with a distance of 30 cm between plants after thinning.

The young white shoots can be pulled up when they reach 20 cm or so in height. The fleshy parts of the leaves need the basal rosette to be well formed. The roots are usually harvested around the end of October or during the winter. If the plant is left until the following year, it goes into flower and develops a sturdy stem, while the basal leaves lose their quality because of toughening. Therefore, although the plant can be kept for several years, it should be cultivated as an annual.

There are no serious phytopathological problems.

Prospects for improvement

The considerably spiny nature of the Spanish salsify plant, and especially of the caulinar leaves which have big, tough spines, is a serious draw-back to its handling and deters attempts to cultivate it. The breeding of less spiny forms would facilitate the plant's handling.

As far as the most widely used portion is concerned - i.e. the fleshy part of the leaves forms will need to be bred that have thick, tender and juicy ribs. Wide collections of material must be made, especially of the old cultigens which can still be recovered, so as to characterize and select them. The areas of greatest interest are the Maghreb, southern Greece and non-horticultural Spanish regions.

If the intention is to use the roots, harvesting should be carried out until the end of the winter. Resistance to flowering will enable root yield to be improved by encouraging rapid root growth at the time of hot weather.

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Fudeco, Libreria
Avenida Libertador-Este, Ed Fudeco
Apartado 254
Barquisimeto C.P. 3002, Ed Lara
Tel. (051 ) 538 022
Fax (051) 544 394
Telex(051) 51314 FUDEC VC

YUGOSLAVIA
Jugoslovenska Knjiga, Trg.
Republike 5/8 P.O. Box 36
11001 Belgrade
Prosveta
Terazije 16/1
Belgrade

ZIMBABWE
Grassroots Books
100 Jason Moyo Avenue
P.O. Box A 267, Avondale
Harare
61a Fort Street
Bulawayo

Other countries / Autres pays / Otros países
Distribution and Sales Section, FAO
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy
Tel (39-6) 52251
Fax 52253152
Telex 625852/625853/610181 FAO

 


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