Posts Tagged Coastal Plants
Family: Amaranthaceae Subfamily: Chenopodiaceae
Agretti, also known as Salsola Soda, Liscari, Barilla (Spanish) and Barba di Frate, Roscano or Agretto (Italian). A Mediterranean vegetable with thin succulent needle like leaves that grow on small bushy plants and is used mainly in Umbria and Lazio in pasta, seafood and fish dishes .
History Salsola soda is native in Eurasia and North Africa. Historically, it was well-known in Italy, Sicily, and Spain. In modern Europe, it is also found on the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal and on the Black Sea coast 
Site & Soil It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.
Temperature Min °C
Sow ? Feb-March Sept-Oct
Plant out ? April
Spacing 30-45cm apart
Crops in: 50 days
Seed Life 1-2 years
Germination 7-10 days
Propagation I sowed ia 1/4 tray in February and planted out in April.
Direct Sow 1cm deep spaced 10-15cm apart thin to 20-30cm apart. Some sources say this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn. In hot areas I would tend to agree with that as it gets woody quickly in dry conditions.
Care Keep weed free generally seems to be pest free
Harvest Salsola soda is harvested in bunches when small, or cropped regularly to encourage new growth when mature. Start cutting from the plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall. Cut the green tops or sections of the plant; it then will regrow
Botany and Seed Saving Franchi say agretti never has more than 50% germination due to the nature of the seed and its volatility. Wiki says the seed is notorious for poor germination at about 30% to 40% standard. The seeds I had were over 80%.
Use The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of Salsola soda and other saltwort plants. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glass and soap making. Salsola soda has also been studied as a “biodesalinating companion plant” for crops such as tomatoes and peppers when they are grown in saline soils. The Salsola soda extracts enough sodium from the soil to improve the growth of the crop plant, and better crop yields result despite the competition of the two plants for the remaining minerals from the soil. 
Nutrition/Cooking Rich in vitamins & minerals. Best lightly boiled until the leaves soften but retain a little crunch, and eaten as a leafy vegetable or salad ingredient or garnish (much like Samphire). It can also be eaten raw or braised in olive oil. The flavour is grassy, salty and slightly sour and works well with seafood.
My Growing Notes
Agretti has been billed as a gourmet delicacy in Italy and in Japan, but, in truth, I didn’t really warm to this plant as a food stuff. It took a long time to develop and when it did I didn’t really like it. It had needle thin succulent type leaves on stems that became woody. It has a slightly acidic grassy taste with not much going for it at all. It is not hugely different in taste or texture to purslane but purslane is far superior in my opinion with a much better taste and crunchier, juicier texture.
I must admit I did not give it a fair go, as far as the kitchen is concerned, I did not even attempt to cook it. I munched on it as I went round the garden but, well it just didn’t inspire me to pick any and take it back to the kitchen. I could imagine using it in a late winter – early spring salad but in summer in Southern France there are too many other delicious contenders that would beat it hands down. So guiltily, knowing I hadn’t given it a fair shot, I put it out of its, and my, misery and pulled up the 6 plants and slung them on the compost heap.
I may yet give it another shot and try again and see how it crops in England, particularly in a warm wet and maritime climate like we have here in Devon. I would still like to try cooking it Japanese style or pickling it in soy or something like that. One thing for sure is that the leaves need to be used when young, 4 months after setting out and the stems were really too woody to use. This picture of the plant in early July is when, on hindsight it probably should have been picked, but it just seemed so small and hardly a mouthful
Some cultivation notes
The only cultivation information I had for it was ‘this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn’ from wiki or ‘plant as soon as ground can be worked’ from Seeds of Italy. I started mine late February and set out early April but it hardly grew until mid summer, when the heat seemed to trigger it into action. I think Colin, who I got the seeds from, had the same issue with slow growth. Here’s a link to a picture of his agretti growing Colin’s Agretti Seedlings. I am not sure how Lieven got on.
Germination was actually very good near 100% not the 30% to 40% as suggested by wikipedia
Matures 50 or so days according to Seeds of Italy definitely not the case in my garden.
Info Contributed by readers
Dimitris Makris wrote: My name is Dimitris and I live in Crete. The name of Agretti here in Greece is “almira” which means salty. It’ s my favorite salad, you have to pick it up early when it’s tender avoiding the woody leaves. In Greece we cut the tender stems about 12 cm not the main stem and it grows again… how we make it as a salad here in Greece: just boil them (not much) put them on a plate and then add olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar and you’ll have the best salad for fishes or anything fried…
I also want to inform you that there is an interesting site about seeds exchange with no money here in Greece: http://www.peliti.gr.