Latin name: Salsola soda
Other names: monk’s beard, saltwort
This wonderful wild edible (and tumbleweed cousin) is a halophyte — because of its tolerance of saline soils, this member of the amaranth family grows in salt marshes and along seashores. You can sometimes find it in farmers’ markets or gourmet shops in the spring; wrap it loosely in a damp paper towel and store it in a produce bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Why is agretti healthy?
High in fiber and antioxidants, agretti also contains vitamins A and K, calcium, and potassium. In some folk traditions, it’s used to treat hypertension and inflammation.
What does agretti taste like?
Agretti has a crisp, succulent texture and a grassy, minerally flavor similar to spinach. The plant also has a natural saltiness owing to the salinity of the soils on which it grows.
Where does agretti grow?
Thought to originate in North Africa and Eurasia, agretti grows wild in sandy soils on the shores along the Black Sea and Mediterranean Basin, as well as the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal. It’s becoming an invasive weed in Californian salt marshes, which probably explains why it’s been showing up in Los Angeles CSA boxes and farmers’ markets of late.
How do I prepare agretti and what do I pair it with?
Agretti should be washed well to remove any grit — since it grows in tidal plains it can be somewhat sandy. You can definitely eat it raw in salads; if you cook it at all, do so with a light touch — a quick sauté or blanch, and don’t fuss too much with technique or ingredients.
Agretti is wonderful with Mediterranean flavors like garlic, olive oil, lemons, and parsley, and it’soften served with spaghetti, which matches its long, skinny form. It’s also a natural match for other springtime ingredients like new potatoes, fava beans, and eggs, as well as other briny ingredients like olives. Add it to omelets or frittatas, but also think about pairing it with a pungent Caesar-type dressing, or adding it to a salade Niçoise.
The ashes from burning agretti yield the compound sodium carbonate, better known as soda ash. Agretti was such an important source of soda ash, an alkali used by Italian soap and glass makers, that the plant was farmed for this purpose until around the 19th century. In the 16th century agretti was a protected trade secret of Venetian glass makers (especially on the island of Murano) whose glass was famed for its supreme clarity.