If there’s a plant that’s destined to explode onto the Grow Your Own scene this year, then it has to be agretti (Salsola soda). Agretti got good press last year as being a vegetable sought-after by chefs; it didn’t hurt that seed was in short supply! Suppliers have taken note, however, and there are plenty more sources (see below) this year.
First up, this is an annual plant, native to the Mediterranean basin. Saltworts are halophytes, salt-loving plants. Salsola soda has many common names, including: Roscano, Erva de Santa Maria, Friar’s beard or Monk’s beard (Barba di Frate in Italian), Liscaria sativa and the mouth-watering ‘Opposite leaved saltwort’ or ‘Oppostive leaved Russian thistle’.
The first thing to note about Italian agretti (and the similar Japanese Okahijiki, Salsola komarovii) is that seed longevity is less than a year. Germination can be problematic anyway, but if you’ve got old seed then it’s just not going to grow. It takes a longer growing season than we can give it to set seed, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the chance to try saving your own seed.
I acquired some agretti seeds (from a friend, IIRC) in 2012 – that’s them in the photo above. But 2012 being what it was, they were never going to get to grow in my garden. It’s a plant I want to try, so this year I ordered a fresh box of seed from Seeds of Italy, and we’re good to grow. So how do you grow agretti?
Clearly, having never grown it – I am not an expert on this plant! So I have started collecting information on how to grow agretti, and I can update this post later. Feel free to share advice/ links in the comments for everyone to have a look at.
How to sow agretti
According to the seed packet, you can sow agretti in any month except December and January, and expect a first harvest about two months later. When I checked with Paolo Arrigo at Seeds of Italy, he confirmed that cold weather sowings should be indoors:
@emmathegardener no early protected like your tomatoes….
— Seeds of Italy-Paolo (@FranchiSeedsUK) December 5, 2015
That’s all the information you get on the seed packet, but – beyond the naturally patchy germination rate – I don’t think this is a difficult plant to grow from seed, so just give it a bash.
In his book From Seed to Plate, Paolo has the following to say about agretti:
“Sow – when you have viable seed – any time from February to November. Cover seeds with 1 cm of soil and space 10 cm apart. Thin to one plant every 16-20 cm apart in a row or raised bed. Germination takes between seven and ten days.”
When growing, agretti looks a bit like a bushy chive – a mature plant is around 30 cm wide and 60 cm tall. It takes around 50 days to reach that size, but you can start cutting the green tops or sections of the plant once it reaches 20 cm, as a cut and come again crop.
Like samphire, agretti has a natural affinity to fish and seafood. It can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked for pasta dishes. Tasting like a combination of salty asparagus and spinach, you can braise it with garlic or boil it and serve with a dressing of lemon and olive oil. There are more serving suggestions in the further reading section below.
D.T.Brown, but note that this is the similar Salsola komarovii, Okahijiki, rather than agretti.
This is not an exhaustive list, so feel free to add more links (including international suppliers) in the comments.
Growing and Eating Salsola Agretti (aka Salsola Soda) from Zeb Bakes.
Agretti: an unusual and underrated crop, by Peter Wrapson on the Jamie Oliver website.
Agretti: the Italian vegetable that chefs are fighting over in the Independent. N.B. I find the Independent’s website to be ad-heavy and slow to load, so you have been warned!
Alys Fowler: salsola, from way back in 2012.
PFAF: Salsola soda. (Although note that agretti is no longer considered to be in the Chenopodiaceae. I find Wikipedia helpful for checking on the latest taxonomy, although for a definitive answer you should consult something like GRIN.)