Sisum sisarum

Perennial root vegetable with a taste somewhat like a nutty parsnip.  The roots can be eaten raw like carrots or boiled or baked like parsnips, and can also be roasted and ground for a coffee substitute, like chicory. Skirret was often grown in monastry gardens in Europe after its introduction from China, but became most popular in medieval times and featured heavily in Tudor cookery. It fell from favour once potatoes were introduced but has a delicate flavour well worth pursuing, despite the more fiddly processing of the roots.

Skirret is very cold hardy and was popular in Scotland, where it was known as crummock. It is also sometimes known as water parsnip, as its wild ancestor grows on the banks of waterways.  The English name skirret is derived from the Middle English ‘skirwhit’ or ‘skirwort’, meaning ‘white root’, whereas the germanic names all translate as ‘sugar root’.

Easy to grow in a sunny or partly shady spot though it does need plenty of additional moisture through dry spells or the roots will be dry and tough. Harvest by digging up the root crown (which looks a little like a squid!) once the tops have died back in winter, and then replanting a section to grow on for the following year.  The roots will be larger if left two years to develop. The young shoots in spring are also edible, as are the seeds.  Being a member of the Apiacea (carrot) family, the flowers are very attractive to beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybirds. Winter dormant. Height to 80cm.

9cm pot. Certified organic plant.

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