6.10.13 Agretti (Monk’s Beard)

6.10.13 Agretti

After our first planting of agretti failed, we thought we’d missed the season. However, with the return of cooler June temperatures and near to 2,000 seeds still on hand, we’re giving it another try. Reports of germination rates vary between 30% to 80%; we erred on the side of caution and seeded with abandon.


If curious about growing agretti yourself, both Seeds of Italy and Gourmet Seeds have seed available, and, due to its short viability, are now offering special pricing. A round-up of growing information:

Seeds from Italy (US):

Agretti Also known as Barba di Frate, Salsola Soda, and Roscano. Agretti is an annual with long, chive-like foliage. It is very popular in Italy and has become the latest trend in high-end Italian restaurants in the U.S.. When mature (50 or so days) Agretti is a 12″ wide, 24″ tall bush that looks like a huge chive plant. Flavor is a bit bitter, a bit sourish. You can just braise them in some olive oil with garlic and serve as a side dish. You can also boil them and dress with olive oil.

Plant as soon as the ground can be worked. Sow and cover with 1/2 inch soil. Space seeds 4-6 inches apart. Thin to one plant 8-12 inches apart in row or raised bed. Germination time: 7-10 days. 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. 100 gram (3.5 ounce) box contains approximately 2,000 seeds. Minimum germination 65 percent.

Seed to Plate by Paolo Arrigo:

Agretti growing tips — Agretti Gows very easily, tolerating cold, heat, wet or dry, but is is an absolute bastard to get viable seeds from — and that isn’t too strong a word! That’s why you probably don’t know what it is: it’s so volatile and unpredictable that some years we have it and other years we don’t. The seed will keep for only a few months, hence its rarity. Most seed companies won’t touch it with a barge pole, but if you can get hold of it then try and grow some, because it is a worthwhile ingredient.

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 mature (in about 50 days) they form a bush 30 cm wide, 60 cm high. You can start cutting from the plants when they are about 20 cm tall. Cut the green tops or sections of the plant; it will then regrow.

Crop Profile: Monk’s Beard (Agretti), Urban Farm Online (Rick Gush)

Agretti, A Kitchen Garden Notebook

Sons of the Pioneers, The Ladybug Letter (Mariquita Farm)

Note: Not to be confused with garden cress, which is also commonly known in Italy as agretto or agretto d’orto. From The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking: “In some Italian regions, the term barba di frate [or agretti] also refers to crescione inglese, garden cress.”

There are different species of salsola (sometimes called “sea mustard”). Agretti is the Italian salsola soda, while salsola komarovii is said to be one of the oldest vegetables in Japan, where it’s called oka hijiki, or land seaweed. While similar in appearance, salsola soda is larger and with more succulent leaves.

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14 Responses to 6.10.13 Agretti (Monk’s Beard)

  1. John Forti says:

    Hi Debra, Do you still have room for some snazzy Italian heirlooms I had grown out from seeds I saved there? oxo John

  2. Is this agretti related to saltwort? I grew saltwort last year, seed from Pinetree seeds, but they never grew very big. I saved some seeds from the package, not knowing that viability was short-term. Will be very interested to see how yours fare.

    • leduesorelle says:

      I completely forgot I grew saltwort last year, and hadn’t realized that it was related to agretti until you mentioned it — thanks! It was from a local nursery and, though it did well, I couldn’t figure out how to cook with it. I’ve appended the post, turns out saltwort is the Japanese version of agretti!

  3. Colleen Allison says:

    I’ve been growing agretti for several years for a chef, we call it Minutina. My seeds from Johnny’s are from 2009 and I’m still using them as I bought a large quantity. I’m almost out, so I have fresh seed now from Richter’s Herbs in Ontario, sold under the name of “Barba di Cappuccino” (Plantago coronopus ‘Minutina’). What I find difficult is that the seeds are like dust, so I sow with abandon as well. It is long and backbreaking to transplant, but I find it transplants well. My chef likes them VERY small, only 5-8 leaves that I harvest as individual plants, no longer than about 4-5 inches, and then he sticks them into something on a plate so that it looks a bit like a fireworks display. A question: I wrote to you last year about Puntarelle, and brought back seeds from Italy but have had no luck, I think it’s a two season thing maybe where you have to pull them out of the ground in the fall, let them go dormant like Belgian Endive, and then replant so that it’s the new sprouts that are eaten as Puntarelle? Have you had any luck? I came across your blog when looking for Puntarelle and have been following it ever since! We have a lot in common gardening-wise, I live north of you in Quebec. Enjoyed your photos and stories from Iceland!
    Colleen Allison
    Frampton, Québec

    • leduesorelle says:

      Hi, Colleen — thanks for visiting and reminding me about minutina! In all of the excitement over agretti, our packet of minutia got overlooked! Both of these were from Seeds of Italy (Franchi), where the minutina (Plantago coronopus, erba stella or buck’s horn) is different from the agretti (Salsola soda); the agretti seed pictured above is similar in size to coriander. Once we get ours to germinate, your info about minutina will come in handy! Love the description of minutina looking like fireworks, since its Italian name erba stella refers to its resemblance to stars.

      Puntarelle — We’re still at the trial-and-mostly-error stage with puntarelle. The batch we took into winter formed pointed buds but didn’t get a chance to mature. Rich Gush, who I mentioned above, offers some info (http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/community-building-and-resources/urban-farm-bloggers/urban-farmer-rick-gush/puntarelle.aspx), suggests forcing, which I need to learn more about!

      • Colleen Allison says:

        Yes, I feel a bit silly – I realized after I sent the comment that we were talking about two different plants and I see now that agretti is not ‘minutina’! I have also seen ‘minutina’ referred to as “erba stella”. I will look for agretti and remember to use the seeds the same year! Thanks, and good luck with Puntarelle!

  4. dvelten says:

    Seems like you have to either sow these things heavily and thin or else try pre-sprouting them in vermiculite or DE. If you have 2000 seeds and they are good for only one season, go for it. Hope they are worth the effort.

  5. kitsapfg says:

    Learn something new every day! I have never heard of Agretti before (or tasted it). Probably not something I would like as I am not partial to items that tend to have bitter undertones in flavor – don’t grow lot of mustard crops for that reason.

    • leduesorelle says:

      We were lucky to get the chance to taste agretti and find that we like it before committing more garden space to it ;)

  6. MJ Auch says:

    This is really helpful. Last week I started some Agretti seeds in my herb garden, which is somewhat shaded by large sage and lavender plants which keeps the soil cooler. I’m going to start some every week through July, then I’ll hold off until September. I like the picture in the Garden Journal blog of seedlings started inside, so I’ll try that, too. My seeds look like yours, not theirs. From what I’m reading, there seem to be several varieties of agretti. I’m hoping for the one with the longer leaves, as I want to use it as a wheat-free substitute for spaghetti. Haven’t a clue what I’m doing, but I love a challenge!

    • leduesorelle says:

      Hi, MJ! We’re glad to know we’re not the only crazy people taking up the agretti growing challenge! We find we usually need to interpret planting advice to suit our own growing conditions; it seems agretti is grown mostly in Southern Italy but in the cooler part of the season, which give us some hope that it can be successfully grown here. The farmer that gave us a sample to taste says that it didn’t like extreme heat we had a couple of weeks ago. There’s some confusion around different varieties of this plant, and I’ve added some notes about this to this post. Looking forward to hearing more about how yours do!

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