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.