Salsola soda

Family: Amaranthaceae

Countries: Africa, Albania, Algeria, Asia, Balearic Islands, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Europe, France, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mediterranean, Middle East, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South America, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

Salsola soda is a vegetable that’s also known by many common names, including: agretti, roscano, saltwort, Russian thistle, Friar’s beard, Monk’s beard, Barba di Frate, or barilla plant.  Plants have a grassy appearance, with stems of needle like leaves, that grow up to around 60cm (2ft) tall, depending on your plant’s growing conditions.  This is a mild but delicious tasting vegetable that adds a freshness, which softly and subtly enhances stir fries, risottos, and many other dishes.  I’d describe the taste of Salsola soda as being between the flavour of seaweed, samphire, grass, and chive.  Salsola soda can be eaten raw, straight after you’ve cut your harvest; this is when it makes a lovely fresh addition to salads.  Alternatively, you can harvest bunches of this vegetable, then wash and roughly chop, to add to stir fries, risottos, and other recipes.  Salsola soda is often combined with lemon.  Serve Salsola soda raw, steamed, boiled, stir fried, or sautéed.  I love it!

Salsola soda is a halophyte – a plant that grows in salt watered ground.  Halophytes can be sprayed with salt water.  They grow in coastal regions or areas that are watered by salt water.  These plants can use saline water in the same way that our garden plants use rainwater.  However, you don’t need to use salt to grow this vegetable.  I’ve grown Salsola soda successfully without ever adding any salt either to my plants’ compost or to the water I’ve used to irrigate my plants.

Once you get these vegetable seedlings growing, Salsola soda is a very easy to grow vegetable.  The difficult part of growing Salsola soda is achieving germination, as these vegetables have a notoriously low germination rate.  To have the best chance of growing Salsola soda successfully, you must use fresh seed – you’ll need to purchase a new packet of seeds every year.  I’d also advise you to soak your seeds in a bowl of water for 24 hours prior to sowing.  Sow your whole packet of Salsola soda seeds at once.  I’d encourage you to keep tending to your Salsola soda seed tray, watering the compost as usual, for a month or two, at least, to give your seeds the best opportunities to germinate.  I’ve sown entire packets of Salsola soda seeds, when I have been delighted to find that 70% of the seeds have germinated and I’ve also sown a packet of Salsola soda seeds, only to have one single seedling germinate.  The freshness of your seed is key, as Salsola soda seeds quickly lose their viability.  I’ve found that some of my Salsola soda seeds have germinated just a few days after sowing, while other seeds, which were sown at the same time, have taken a few weeks, or longer, to germinate.

Salsola soda is a hardy, annual vegetable, that thrives in a sunny position.  Sow Salsola soda seeds during February and March inside a heated glasshouse.  Alternatively, sow Salsola soda seeds during April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November, outside.

Harvest Salsola soda regularly.  Simply cut your plants back 5cm (2 inches) from the base of your plant.  Leave your plants in situ and remember to water your plants after harvesting, as Salsola soda plants will quickly regrow, giving you a bountiful harvest each week.

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