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.