Salsola – an unusual salad crop from Italy

salsola

This year I am going to re-acquaint myself with an unusual veg that I have grown before but not for a while. Agretti or salsola (Salsola soda) is a European native that is associated with Italy and is not something that I have ever seen for sale in shops in the UK. Apart from being almost unknown, the plant does have something of a problem because seed germination is usually poor and the plant itself is a bit odd.

But starting with actually getting it to germinate, the problem is that not only is the germination rate low but the seeds will not grow if the temperatures are too warm. Most seed companies warn to sow it early or in autumn (in a polytunnel). I sowed four seeds per cell and, just over two weeks later the seedlings are appearing. I kept the trays in the unheated greenhouse, kept them moist and so far I have one or two plants in each cell, suggesting a germination rate of 25-50% – so far! I can be that precise because the seeds (or fruits) are large and easy to count out. (as you can see in the image above where the seedling is proudly holding the seed coat aloft)

Once large enough these will be planted out in the garden where they should produce tufted plants with a wiry base and masses of long, thin succulent leaves. The best way to eat it is to cut the centres from the plant so you only have the youngest leaves and then they are a pretty exciting addition to salads. They have a very crisp, almost crunchy texture and a ‘green’ taste with a salty tang – very unusual. But wait until the leaves get any older and the sensation is like eating green baler twine and, after the initial pleasant taste, it is just like what you get when eating stringy celery of having a mouth full of roughage after you have sucked all the flavour out of tiger nuts (that is Cyperus esculentus or chufa if you are not familiar with this healthy snack – I am not suggesting you eat offal from endangered animals).

The leaves can also be cooked and they have a very interesting history – but I will leave that till the plants have grown more and I can show you what they look like when they are a bit bigger.

 

I got my seeds from http://www.realseeds.co.uk – they are a small company that save their own seeds and encourage you to do so and they offer interesting plants and are a nice company to deal with – and they ship to Ireland.

 

 

4 Comments on “Salsola – an unusual salad crop from Italy”

  1. fernwoodnursery
    March 14, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    After reading your post, I am very curious about this plant and hope you will share some photos as the plant matures. We have a visitor coming from Italy this summer, maybe I should try this plant! We have a succulent called Salicornia depressa, ( commonly known as glasswort) a native that we have foraged as an edible. It grows in salt marsh areas, they are crisp and salty as well. I’ll look forward to hearing more about this Italian vegetable you are growing, thanks for sharing!

    • thebikinggardener
      March 17, 2015 at 8:26 am #

      Yes. We have glasswort or samphire here and it is a wild food that is suddenly becoming very ‘cheffy’. it is lovely steamed or quickly boiled and covered in butter. I will let you know how the salsola gets on.

  2. Jane
    July 18, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    I am trying this for the first time and shared with many seeds with my follow gardeners. My experience is opposite with yours. First I try some seeds outdoor in a big pot, so far a week past still nothing. Then I tried some seeds somewhere very hot and sunny during the day time then only the second day, some seeds start to germinate. How odd is that? It is very interesting to grow new type of crop!

    • thebikinggardener
      July 26, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

      That is interesting! I was worried about the high temperatures hindering germination but I obviously need not have worried! The plants are growing well now and almost huge! It is interesting to try something new and to have new tastes and textures 🙂

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