Agretti, Oka Hijiki and the Common Tumbleweed

Ranging from exotic to entirely common (weedy), these species in the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) are extremely nutritious, delicious, and where native, extremely popular. But outside of their homelands are almost completely unknown. The nutritional value, taste, and easy growing should render these crops incredibly popular.

Agretti, Roscano, Barba di Frate

Agretti

Salsola soda
A trendy, popular vegetable in Italy, but almost unknown in the US, mature plants get big, but best to keep cropped down to produce lots of tender new growth. The taste is delicious, influenced by high mineral content: slightly sour, with a hint of bitter and delightfully crunchy. Used boiled, stir-fried or raw. Great just braised with olive oil as a side dish. When they first rise up out of the soil, they look like chives. Ashes of this species were once used to make soda ash for making glass and soap, and is still used in the production of potash. Agretti is a halophyte, which is a plant that can grow in salty conditions (though it does not require such). It is native to the Mediterranean coast.

This is a tough plant to find because the seed is not viable long. Ensure that your seed source is a viable one. Get seed as fresh as possible. Cover seeds (they look like little broken pieces of cork) with about ½ inch of soil. As plants grow, thin to about a foot across. Plant in early spring (as soon as you can get seed) and through to the fall. Try indoors in hot summer.

To harvest, crop the tips of branches to encourage more branching and keep plants small. Fresh new growth is the tastiest and you can get about 3-5 hard croppings out of each plant.

Seed Sources: Italian Seed and Tool Co.Seed Savers Exchange (as a member), Hirt’s Gardens.

Oka Hijiki

Oka Hijiki, Land Seaweed, Saltwort
Salsola Komarovii

Similar to agretti in cultivation and form and as popular in Japan as agretti has become in Italy, Oka Hijiki is considered one of Japan’s oldest vegetables. It is generally much easier to find in the U.S. than agretti. The Japanese prize this species and use it in many similar ways including with sushi.

Cultivation is the same as agretti.

Seed Sources: Kitazawa, Johnny’s Selected Seed

Tumbleweed

Seedlings of tumbleweed. Perfectly delicious.

Salsola tragus
This species you won’t need to grow. This is the famous tumbleweed. You might not recognize it in its most delicious form. Find seedlings coming up in the yard and harvest. Plants can also be cropped like the above-mentioned species. Native to Eurasia and N. Africa.

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