Heirloom Garden: Agretti, Okahijiki, Tumbleweed

BLOG / Homestead / January 7, 2014

by Jared R. McKinley, Associate Publisher Edible Baja Arizona
The Heirloom Garden series highlights crops that can be grown in your garden in Baja Arizona.

Common Tumbleweed

Common Tumbleweed

You have probably seen the woody tumbling corpse of tumbleweed. But most people probably don’t know that this weedy plant is edible. If you harvest young seedlings or tender tips of older plants, you can eat them raw in salad, stir fry them, or pickle them. Seedlings of tumbleweed appear in spring in Baja Arizona and that is the best time to gather them. As the plants grow larger they become prickly and unpalatable. Even some seedlings, if growing in a tough, dry spot, will be a bit tough.

Tumbleweed (Salsola tragus) is native to Eurasia though naturalized in North America. There are about 25 species in the genus Salsola. Two other species discussed below are more predictably palatable (that is, not too tough to eat):

Argetti

Argetti

Argetti (Salsola soda) is a trendy, popular vegetable in Italy, but almost unknown in the U.S. 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, argetti is 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. It is still used in the production of potash, a fertilizer. Agretti is a halophyte, which is a plant that can grow in salty conditions (though it does not require such) and is native to the Mediterranean coast.

This is a tough plant to find because the seed is not viable for very long. Ensure that your seed source is a viable one–get 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 apart. Plant in early spring (as soon as you can get seed) and through to the fall.

Mature plants get big. 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. Plant in full sun and water moderately. Seed is available at the Italian Seed and Tool Company.

Okahijiki

Okahijiki

Okahijiki (S. komarovii) is considered one of Japan’s oldest vegetables. Translated as “land seaweed” it is native to salt marshes in Japan. It is generally much easier to find in the U.S. than agretti and the seed stays viable longer. The Japanese prize this species and use it in many similar ways including with sushi. They also pickle it. Many people mistake it for actual seaweed.

Cultivation of this species is the same as argetti. Seed is available at Kitazawa Seed Company.

Have a question? Have a gardening article suggestion? Email Jared: jared@ediblebajaarizona.com


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