Other names: roscano or barba di frate
General Information: The Italian name Agretti is commonly used in English to refer to the edible leaves of Salsola soda. This highly seasonal green succulent is also called Monk's Beard, a poor translation of Barba Di Frate, Friar's Beard; other names include goat's beard in the United Kingdom and roscano regionally throughout Italy. Agretti is a green vegetable which originates from Tuscany. Agretti’s other name of “Friar’s Beard” is derived from the Cappuccino monks who were well known for growing the vegetable. The plants have a beautiful candelabra shape and crisp, crunchy thin leaves. Highly prized by top chefs, it’s difficult to find in the United States.
Agretti is classified in the chenepoaicaea family, of which Marsh Samphire (the sea bean) is a member. It has a nice green and grassy taste that blends easily with other flavors. Like Samphire (Crithmum maritimum), Agretti (Salsola soda) is a halophyte, tolerant of salty soils, and will grow at the edge of salty marshes. The name Salsola is derived from Latin "salsus", meaning salt. The vegetable tends to be a bit salty tasting, even when grown in normally irrigated soils, and can be a bit tart, like purslane or some kinds of spinach. Agretti is similar to samphire in appearance but without the overwhelming saltiness that make sea beans such an acquired taste.
Agretti is not a summer green and has a short window of availability in the spring and early summer months. While it originated in Tuscany it is also being cultivated by specialist salad and vegetable growers in the United Kingdom and United States. Visually, Salsola soda is sometimes confused with a plant known in Japan as Okahijiki ("Land Seaweed"), which is actually the species Salsola komarovi. The harvested leaves of the two species have a similar appearance, and both can be grown in regular soil or in salt marshes.
When Agretti is very young it is suitable for use in salads but it is perhaps best used lightly steamed and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper (and sea salt to taste) to produce a delicate side platter. The flavor, color and stalk shape also make it suitable for serving beds, classically with fish. Raw Agretti can take the place of the closely related Okahijiki (Salsola komarovi) in sushi, where the tartness, saltiness and texture complement the other flavors.
Agretti is a good source of vitamin A, iron and calcium.