Seed Saving for the Asteraceae Family



Common Name



Gobo (Japanese Burdock)





Chicory (Witloof Chicory)


Artichoke (Globe Artichole)


Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunroot)



Lettuce, Celtuce






Black Salsify (Scorzonera)





Wild Salsify

Pollination: This family is self pollinating, so crossing does not occur between members of the same species. Some of the seed saving in this family will consist of selecting tubers and roots (e.g. yacon, artichokes), instructions under Harvest and Selection
We sometimes have trouble with lettuce in our wet Summers. Lettuce flowers rot and do not set seed if it is too humid or wet. Some varieties are more susceptible than others to this. Lightheart and Odells are the bes in a humid wet situation..

Isolation Distances: Self fertile, no issue, but best to keep blocks of different varieties of same species, separate.

Minimum Numbers: Best to save from more than one plant.

When To Plant: All Asteraceae, must be planted in early Spring, to harvest quality seed  either later in Summer or the next summer.
Salsify and Scorzonera are biennials, and when planted in Spring will over winter and go up to seed the following Summer. Yacon and Artichokes must be planted in early to mid Spring and produce their crops the following Winter. Globe artichokes can be planted any time; however they flower in Spring and Autumn. The late Summer / early Autumn flowers are the easiest ones to save seed from. They like the dry heat, so earlier seed heads often rot.

Rogueing/Selection: For above ground crops ( lettuces etc) keep a general eye out for plants that are not true to type and eat these rather than leaving for seed. These crops will go to seed the first summer they are in the ground. Think about selecting for plants that do not bolt, are not as affected by rain during flowering (causing the flowers to rot rather than set seed) etc. For those Asteraceae that are root crops, you must save seed from those that have the best roots, or you will lose crop quality very fast.. Asteraceae root crops  can be selected in the same way described for carrots  in the Apiaceaea section. You will not harvest seed until the second Summer they are in the ground.

Support/Protection: Plants grow very tall when going up to seed and will need either staking or a mesh frame. Birds will eat Asteraceae seed if they can.

Harvesting: Asteraceae seed must be harvested just before it blows away on the wind. If you leave it 1 day too long it will suddenly open and disappear. Don’t worry about getting it a little too early, that will not matter. The seed will continue maturing and open up inside the paper bag or sheet that you place it in as you harvest the heads. Rootcrops follow instructions as for Apiaceae. Yacon and Jerusalem artichokes  are best harvested at one time and keep the harvest from each plant separate so you can see which plants have the best sized and shaped etc crops. Keep these roots for your next seasons seed.

Threshing: Asteraceae seed, once harvested and dried to the crunchy stage (if necessary in the greenhouse), is easy to rub into a powder on a screen or by dancing on the seed on a tarp.
and winnow to clean the seed. Be aware that processing the seed cases results in very fine powder which, like dust, can go into your lungs. We wear scarves over our noses and mouths when processing lettuce seed. It’s the worst kind of seed for producing fine dust!
Endive seed is the one that gets processed last each year, because it has very tough pods and they require brute strength to break them up to extract the seed. We usually end up using a fence post rammer in a heavy flat bottomed metal container to break them up, then winnowing is easy. If you are growing for home garden situation, doing a few by hand will not be so bad. You could try banging the seed heads with a hammer; I doubt you will damage the seed.
Salsify, scorzonera, globe artichokes, and shungiku are all easy; similar to lettuce but bigger seed, so you can more easily see what you are doing. For Jerusalem artichokes you must keep some of the roots that you eat. Choose nice big, smooth skinned ones. Yacon has two different kinds of underground tubers, the huge juicy elongated tubers for eating, and the smaller corms which sit above the edible part, for seed.

Seed Life Expectancy:  Endive seed will remain viable for many years under dry, cool, dark conditions; artichoke seed will remain viable for 7 years; sunflowers 7 years;  lettuce 3 years; scorzonera 2 years; salsify 4 years. Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke tubers must be planted each year.