The name skirret comes from the Dutch word “suikerwotel,” meaning “sugar root.” It is a taproot, meaning the main root grows downward and absorbs nutrients and water, with smaller lateral roots growing from the main one. Skirret is considered a low yield crop and is sometimes considered difficult to harvest and prepare due to its many lateral roots.
The plants grow to be 3 to 4 feet tall with roots that are 6 to 18 inches long. Its leaves are dark green, large, glossy, and are compound pinnate, meaning they look like feathers. Skirret roots are gray-white that cluster at the base of the plant. The plant blossoms in small, white flowers.
Skirret is native to China and was introduced to Europe in the classical times, then brought to Britain by the Romans. It was commonly eaten by medieval aristocrats and ancient Romans and was grown in monastic gardens. Skirret was very prominent in the Tudor era in England but lost its popularity for a long time, yet it is now beginning to gain traction again.
Skirret can be grown in Hardiness Zones 5-9. It should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. Each plant should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart, and seeds should be planted half an inch deep in the soil. After planting, it will take 6 to 8 months for skirret to be ready for harvest.
Skirret should be planted in a lightly shaded spot. It prefers soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. The soil should be kept moist and weed-free. In order to overwinter skirret, it should be mulched over.
Once planted, a skirret plant is tolerant to the cold and, if some roots are left in the ground after harvest, will grow back for next harvest.
Skirret roots are edible and are considered to be very sweet. They can be eaten raw, boiled, and roasted. The tough inner core should be removed before cooking since it tends to be fibrous if the plant is over a year old. Skirret is often used in stews, casseroles, salads, or just eaten on its own.
Plants that grow well with skirret include: leeks, lettuce, radish, arugula, spinach, Bok Choy, onions, and chives. It should be planted with crops that take less than 6 months to harvest and that do not grow deep into the ground to avoid interference.
Check out this great video on skirret from Edible Acres here