Growing and Eating Salsola Agretti (aka Salsola Soda)

In which a post mysteriously appears on my old blog, slightly obsessive in detail but that’s me!

salsola agretti steamed

Salsola agretti, opposite leaved saltwort, Friars Beard is a joy of a vegetable to discover if you are like me, always looking over the fence – in this case the internet fence  – and seeing what people eat in other countries. I don’t think I could ever fit a rice paddy in my suburban garden and I don’t really have space for growing melons and other ground hungry plants much as I would love to try, but this plant, which kept appearing here and there on my Instagram feed, really took my fancy so I tracked down some seed and read as much as I could and looked for photos and based on what I found I had a go at growing it last year. I have to say I love it.

I read that they queue up for this in Rome when it first appears in the markets and I read that celebrity chefs grow their own in order to have a reliable supply. And others have no doubt written on their garden blogs about growing it,  but here are my thoughts and photos of growing salsola agretti last year for you to have a look at.

Sources of seed that I know of are Real Seeds  and Franchi in the UK and I think Otter Farm may have it too, though stock levels from all these vary and it is not available all year round.   It has a short shelf life so you need to use the seed you get in one season or if you have excess just share it around.  The seed has a reputation for being hard to germinate. This I suspect is because as Real Seeds say it isn’t really a proper seed, more ‘a balled up little plant’ to quote them. I have tried saving some seed from my plants this year and will add a post script and let you know if any of them germinate. They make the seed very late in the season, so it might be something to do with weather conditions, wet/dry/hot as to their percentage viability the following Spring.

If you look it up on Wikipedia you can read all about it and its history and its industrial use.  The photos on Wiki aren’t brilliant though so I am going to put a load of ours on here to help give an idea of how the plant develops through the growing season here in Bristol, (mild climate). Not the easiest of plants to photograph and make look interesting either….  I understand that in Rome it has a much shorter and more intense growing season, so if you are growing it in a different climate then the times and so on will all be different for you.

I sowed seed in March and again in April.  I sowed in seed compost and covered the seeds with maybe ¼ inch of soil, watered lightly and left them to it on a north facing windowsill with a plastic propagation cover over the tray until they popped up. You could sow them individually in modules if you want to see exactly how many germinate.  I also sowed some outside direct in the soil in a warm raised bed about a month later. The majority of the seed I sowed came up and I had loads of seedlings, more than I knew what to do with. I have heard that sometimes germination is poor so it is best to sow the seeds quite thickly and then thin out or replant  or give away the seedlings.

Seed sown thickly in a seed tray after a month

salsola seedlings, agretti

Seed sown in modules

salsola agretti seedling

The leaves look a bit like rosemary needles when they come up. The stems are a wonderful red, that disappears as the plant gets older.  The seedlings are tough and sturdy and don’t have a very deep root system and can be handled easily and potted on or potted out as you prefer. You can sow smallish batches at intervals if you have space. I put some of my module grown ones out later on in the season. They ‘hold’ quite well in modules and wait till they have more space to grow on in.

I tried planting them out in various ways in deep salad boxes with a water reservoir underneath and in ordinary plant pots, and in our raised veg bed which is quite warm soil. I would plant them out at a distance of 6 – 8 inches apart if you want to let the plants grow to full size and if you leave a couple uncropped towards the end of their picking season you can have a go like me at saving some of the seed to grow the following year.

salsola agretti

Once they had grown to about four to six inches in height (earliest sown plants were at this stage in June) I nipped out the central stems as above and we ate them up. I can’t be the only one who ‘test nibbles’ young plants? From then on, they grew and grew and grew, every time I cut out the nice soft stems to eat, they grew some more, each cut producing a new pair of growing stems. If you keep them short they get very bushy.

Here are the same plants as above about three weeks later, much bushier and full of tender stems.

salsola agretti

The stems do harden up  and become inedible over time if you leave them but if you keep cutting them they don’t get woody until quite late in the season. It wasn’t very hot last summer though, so I imagine if it gets very hot for a prolonged period of time they might finish being nice to eat earlier in the year. I think they have a very short season in Rome. The pictures I find on the net of salsola agretti in the markets in Rome seem to show a plant with much longer leaves, but as they are nearly always pictured wrapped up in paper it is hard to compare them. Anyway, this is what mine looked like once picked.

salsola agretti

I am out of practice at taking food photos, and most of these were record shots, rather than trying to take them for the blog.

salsola agretti steamed

We ate them steamed drizzled with oil and seasalt, we ate them sautéed with garlic and chilli, we ate them in omelettes, in pies and quiches, rolled up in seaweed rice rolls and with just about everything you might eat spinach with. It is delightful with fish in particular and good with pasta of course, and I wish I had a photo of them twirled up with spaghetti to share! Don’t ask me for recipes for these because I have long forgotten quite what was in that pie, it looks like a yellow courgette which must have come from Blaise Community Garden and something like a whiite goat cheese or maybe it was kefir cheese? not sure now,  or in that salad, it might be quinoa but don’t count on it!

salsola agretti two ways

salsola agretti

I experimented with pickling them, using a recipe for pickled samphire.  I think they are more of an oddity pickled than anything but they go with seaweed rolls quite nicely. We had quite a lot of plants here and there, maybe eighteen or so in the raised bed and two salad boxes full of them as well. I took some up to Blaise Community Garden and planted them out in a space about 1 metre square in the disabled friendly raised bed in one of the unglazed greenhouses and some of the volunteers tried it and thought it was good stuff. It never grew very tall there because it was so frequently being harvested!

salsola growing at Blaise

So what does it taste like? It is slightly salty, slightly sour and has a bright, spring like green flavour, something like spinach but not spinach, a bit of the crunch of slightly under done asparagus, something like juicy samphire but not nearly as salty,  and just altogether delightful if you are a green vegetable fan like me. You can eat it raw when it is young and tender too.

Finally the plants began to change in form, the leaves they grew were shorter and it looked more and more like a Friar’s Beard, scruffy and straggly and the opposite leaves became apparent too. Small round seeds or flower heads (I wasn’t sure initially) formed in the crux between leaf and stem and I asked Brian to take some close ups (see below) for the record. These eventually went brown and dry and I harvested some to see if they will be viable seed this season. These final photos are of the plants in this stage and I hope they are useful as I couldn’t find anything like this when I looked last year on the net.

salsola agretti forming seed

salsola agretti seed

From June to August we were eating salsola every week, sometimes twice a week, a super productive and tasty green vegetable, with the added glamour of not being able to buy it in the shops. I must admit every time I walked past the commercially grown samphire in the greengrocers at some outrageous price for 100g or so, I had a little smirk to myself….

35 thoughts on “Growing and Eating Salsola Agretti (aka Salsola Soda)

  1. Karin Anderson

    Very interesting! I never heard about this vegetable before. Tried to grow Allium ursinum here in Maine, because I saw so many German recipes made with it, but the seeds didn’t germinate. We have (native) ramps that taste similar but the growing season is very short.
    Welcome back to the blogosphere 😊

    1. Joanna Post author

      There are so many edible plants that I don’t know . The season for allium ursinum isn’t that long here either and it is very hard to grow from seed, I think you might do better with the bulbs, . I have some at home but it is slow to establish. I suspect this woodland sites where it grows in profusion are quite mature. I sowed some garlic chives last autumn in pots and they have come up. I haven’t tasted them yet but they might be a good alternative Karin ? I meant to write this post last year and then wanted to wait to see the plant through its life cycle and forgot about it till yesterday. Thankyou for reading it !

  2. narf77

    It’s true. I just fell off my chair in shock. Once I got back up off the floor, I hurriedly turned this entire post into a pdf and cribbed it away because I KNOW that anything good enough to bring Ms Zeb back from the depths of deep internet space silence has got to be bloody amazing! Before you scuttle away to rehabite Instagram, I would like to take the opportunity to wish you Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Birthday, Happy Easter, Happy Valentine’s Day and any other non secular (or secular) holiday/celebration that there might be cause I have NO idea when I will see you again. Lovely to see that enthusiasm spilling out all over the place, especially in real life Ms Joanna. BIG hugs from stinking hot, arid, Gobi desert like Tasmania :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hello Fran! I am still here, just didn’t have anything to say in a blog post or a reason to say it till now and maybe I got out of the habit. I don’t promise to be a prolific blogger from now on in but it is a delight to be waved at by you. I hope you have ingenious ways of keeping cool in the desert of the Tassie summer, will pop over and read how you are doing later this morning. At the moment I am tucked under a winter duvet with a mug of tea waiting for sunrise !

      1. narf77

        OH I wish my doona was my best friend at the moment but I am afraid our friendship ended around about November and although the cuppa is firmly in place, and it would take more than heat to prevent me from imbibing, the rest is best left till our winter (if we get one that is ;) ). It really was lovely to see your blog post yesterday. I had to tease you, that’s me ;). I didn’t blog for almost a year. I went off the boil and it was feeling laboured and difficult and I figured that if you aren’t enjoying it, why do it? I came back because I recognised that blogging is an excellent visual journal about where you are at any given time. You can go through your blog posts and see what you were doing “back when” and for that reason, and for the love of sharing, I came back. BIG hugs for our brief encounter ma’am and see you when I see you :)

        1. Joanna Post author

          I didn’t feel teased, I felt loved and missed :) xx I just had a look through some of mine and particularly the one with ‘that book’ and your trip to Hobart, you are a star!

          1. narf77

            So are you Ms Joanna, so are you and that’s why I left your blog tucked into bed on my RSS Feed Reader. If you ever posted again, I didn’t want to miss it :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is a really interesting plant Celia and I think even in Italy quite local as my Sicillian neighbour didn’t know it at all. Happy New Year to you too xxx

  3. drfugawe

    What a delightful surprise! A new post from an old friend – I really am delighted to see your post, and to know that you haven’t fallen into the void of complete abstinence as have I. Here’s wishing you much joyful creativity and energies for the new year – be well amiga

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi there Doc! Lovely to hear from you too, I guess I could have written an explanatory post but it would have meant apology and explanation and baring my soul a bit more than I could manage to the gaze of strangers (not you lovely folk who I feel I have a relationship with, but the cursory hoppers thru blogs who never say hello) and though my boundaries are often poor I needed to just live in blogging silence for a while, sounds melodramatic but the blog posts I would have written would not have been happy to read maybe? Wishing you all the best , health and happiness and joy to you too !

      1. drfugawe

        No explanation needed for those of us who have lived it! We’re just happy knowing you’re OK and in good health – I now know that blogging is not the source of all happiness, nor is anything else that takes so much of one’s time and energies – so now I try hard to spread my energies around – and I’m finding that I really did have a lot of other interests that had been pushed aside, and that I’m now re-discovering again. Fun.

        Enjoy ALL that life offers Jo, and if that means a blog post every once in awhile, then we too can share in your happiness.

  4. Jan

    A-ha-ha! It is you! …and a very interesting plant. I at first thought of samphire, which I have seen pictures of, but never tasted. It sounds rather like the cycle of human life too, soft, tender, hopeful, toughening up and then getting knarly and ready to pass on. I must see if the plant is known in Australia. That was such an interesting post, Joanna, and so lovely to hear your ‘voice’ again – and drfugawe – I hope all is well in the Land of Zeb

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hehe Jan , yes it s me! I thought the salsola might get more shrub like as winter hasn’t happened as yet here, (we are in the rainy season, ahem) but the whole plant withered and went brown for me so I guess they are annuals. I think there is a similar plant that grows in Japan, the family are called salt worts. I am not a very good botanist so despite observing these quite closely I am not sure what is gong on with the seeds, whether the tiny little ‘horns’ on the top of what I call seeds are some sort of flower in fact. If you have something similar it would grow in a salt marsh or coastal area I would think. I wonder also if it is saltier when grown in its natural habitat as I think it can take salt out of the soil. Zeb is older and a bit grey round the chops but still goes out barking at cats and foxes!

  5. sallybr

    I was also in shock (good type of shock) when I got notification of a new post from you, and hurried up here…..

    of course, it was a masterpiece of a post waiting for my eyes!

    lovely, makes me wonder what it tastes like, but I have pretty much zero hope of ever finding out! ;-)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Sally, thanks ! you and Phil need an excuse to visit Rome in the early part of the year, I always think the food sounds fantastic there when we are in ‘the hungry gap’ and they are getting all this lovely early spring vegetables, artichokes, salsola and other favourites are all in season so much earlier than here, xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      thanks tom, long time since we chatted, I will give you a call soon. Maybe you could grow this in the garden at home, it doesn’t take up much space, do you want me to send you a little seed to try later with instructions? x jo

    1. Joanna Post author

      Happy New Year to you too! I don’t bake so many different things these days, mostly a sourdough made with einkorn flour and regular wheat. I have got a bit ‘boring’ on the bread front to be honest !

  6. heidiannie

    I loved your pictures and experiments- I’m so happy to see you back here-( although I understand completely and am in the same sort of blog funk- wanting to say Hello, but not share the miasmic atmosphere in which I am presently dwelling…) Any way- I am very interested in your green vegetable, but I don’t think it would translate well into my garden conditions and I’ve never seen it on the market. I have some really good gardening friends that I am going to ask to perhaps try this -IF we can find seeds here.
    So lovely to hear from you- I think of you often- and love to see you via facebook on occasion.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I have never seen it on the market either, you know how it is, you just get curious about some things and I like slow projects, so if it takes me a year to find some seed and another year or sometimes two to grow it, that’s ok with me. So pleased you liked it, and I am thrilled that people remember me after a long absence, that is very heartwarming. Blogs are what we want them to be, though some people’s take on a life of their own almost. I had a look at some old posts today, some I have no memory of writing at all, but they all look/sound like me so it must have been me that wrote them. :) :) Hope the air clears soon at your end, much love, Joanna

  7. Sue

    What an interesting vegetable!
    Great to see a post from you – I’m glad I didn’t delete you from my reading list!

  8. ardysez

    What a very interesting and informative post Joanna. I’m sure our weather is not conducive to growing it, but I will keep an eye out in case I see it on a menu somewhere. Hugs and best wishes to you and Brian for the New Year. xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Ardys Wish I could send but am pretty sure one needs special licences etc. I found an Aussie distributor of Franchi seeds yesterday, whether they have it I am not sure or if it would grow for you but it is a robust salt tolerant plant so maybe ? xx jo

  9. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Joanna I saw your post come up in my feed the other day and I knew I had to wait until there was a quite time to read. It’s been so long I didn’t want to rush it! So good to see you dear lady, (and seeing all your faithful readers comments as well.)
    Now, salsola agretti I’ve not heard of, I think I vaguely remember eating it in Italy (like you did with olive oil and salt) and now that I have a (ahem) garden and not just of the potted variety getting two hours of vague sun, well, I can contemplate growing these things. I will have a look at Franchi’s seeds, they are yet to let me down those ones. Love them.
    Just I love seeing your posts pop up, whenever, however, whatever Joanna. x

    1. Joanna Post author

      Very exciting to have a garden! How wonderful! Sitting here in soggy, finally cold January and the sun is out and I can see all the dust everywhere. I was very touched that people still keep me in their readers or on their feeds or whatever, hope life is treating you well x Joanna

  10. Le Petit Potager

    I haven’t opened this email for 9 months due to full-time study……..and there is the divine Miss Joanna.
    I made a loaf of your grain rye bread this afternoon and thought I wonder how you are.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I haven’t opened the blog for well over a year or two, so it was a bit random. I love that you make the rye bread, gives me a warm feeling to hear that. All very best to you, x Joanna

  11. Anne

    Hello Joanna,
    thanks for sharing your experience with Salsola agretti. I have never heard of it and would not mind trying to grow some this year. Grateful that you have already put so much information on your post !
    Happy New Year to you and to lots more baking, gardening, walking


    What a lovely post Jo on one of my most fave of the spring veg. Will try to hurry up and plant some…if I have not already missed the boat. We are going thro’ some quite a bit of chilly nights( with my shock &horror found ice splurting out of the hose pipe this morning) but daytimes are really really spring…with that piercing bright light that heralds the arrival of longer days.XCPS. Sending you recipe for a a very simple and plain cake. Not made for a long time,till a couple of weeks ago I suddenly remembered how good it was. Best baked in a shallow tin. I use something not deeper than 5 cm.

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