Monday, 23 January 2012

Mediterranean Saltbush (Atriplex halimus)

Useful evergreen shrub
I wanted to write about some of the perennial evergreens that can be eaten in the depths of winter. One shrub that I find useful is the Mediterranean saltbush (Atriplex halimus) from the Chenopodiaceae family. Also known as sea purslane, sea orach and shrubby orach. I've had one growing in my back garden in a fairly shaded spot for about 6 years.

Mediterranean Saltbush (Atriplex halimus)
Growing the saltbush
I bought a ready-grown shrub but the saltbush can easily be grown from seed. Sow in the spring. Seeds germinate in about 3 weeks. Plants should be kept under cover for the first year and planted outside the following spring. The Saltbush can also be grown from cuttings which can be taken from semi-ripe wood in the summer or mature wood in the winter. It is hardy surviving temperatures down to -8°C here. Occasionally branches have broken under the weight of heavy snow. I sometimes put compost around the base and a mulch of leaves in the autumn. The saltbush can grow in alkaline or salty soil and will tolerate drought conditions and high temperatures.

Disaster strikes
Last summer (2011) the wildlife in my garden systematically stripped the saltbush shrub leaving only bare branches. Hence my line drawing and no photograph. The culprits included sparrows (house and tree), blue tits, great tits, finches (gold and green), blackbirds, fieldfares, squirrels and foxes. The squirrels broke off small branches, ate the leaves and then left the branches in a pile. Tidy little buggers. I have taken the precaution of wrapping an eco fleece around it to help it get a head start this spring. However, since the leaves are in such demand, I am going to take some cuttings and plant more shrubs for the little critters.

Edible parts
The leaves are edible raw and are good in salads. They can also be boiled or steamed and eaten like spinach. They are a pale green grey in colour and have a lovely salty taste. They can also be dried and ground down in a coffee grinder and used as a flavouring. The small seeds are cooked before eating. They can be ground down and used to thicken soups/stews or added to flour. I'm afraid my shrub has never set seed. Perhaps because it is in a shaded area. Please don't ask about the so-called 'edible manna' that this shrub is supposed to offer up! I have never seen manna or anything that might even remotely resemble manna on any part of it at any time.

Atriplex and selenium
The Atriplex genus is a 'facultative selenium absorber' and as such will accumulate selenium but is not limited to growing in soils which contain selenium. It might make the plant mildly poisonous if grown in selenium rich soil. Most of us don't know how much selenium is in our garden soil. However, British and European soil is known to be generally quite low compared to places like America so we probably don't have much to worry about.

Other uses
The saltbush is evergreen and is therefore good for screening. It grows up to around 2 metres high and 3 metres wide. It is good for coastal regions and can be used to de-salinate and reclaim soil.

by Amanda Rofe

1 comment:

  1. I am going to take some cuttings and plant more shrubs for the little critters.evergreen shrubs