Salsola soda

Salsola soda

name = "Salsola soda"

image_caption = ©2006 Luigi Rignanese
regnum = Plantae
divisio = Magnoliophyta
classis = Magnoliopsida
ordo = Caryophyllales
familia = Amaranthaceae
subfamilia = Chenopodiaceae
genus = "Salsola"
species = "S. soda"
binomial = "Salsola soda"
binomial_authority = Weinm.

"Salsola soda", more commonly known in English as Opposite Leaved Saltwort, Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle, or Barilla Plant, is a small (to 0.7 m tall), annual, succulent shrub that is native to the Mediterranean Basin. [Integrated Taxonomic Information Service (2007). " [ "Salsola soda L."] ," report for taxonomic serial number 504989, retrieved May 19, 2007.] It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.

The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of "Salsola soda" and other saltwort plants.Clow, Archibald and Clow, Nan L. (1952). "Chemical Revolution," (Ayer Co Pub, June 1952), pp. 65–90. ISBN 0-8369-1909-2.] Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glassmaking and soapmaking. The famed clarity of 16th century "cristallo" glass from Murano and Venice depended upon the purity of "Levantine soda ash," [Turner, Guy (1999). "Allume Catina" and the Aesthetics of Venetian "Cristallo"," "Journal of Design History" 12, No. 2, pp. 111–122. DOI: [ 10.1093/jdh/12.2.111] ] and the nature of this ingredient was kept secret. Spain had an enormous 18th century industry that produced soda ash from the saltworts ("barrilla" in Spanish).Pérez, Joaquín Fernández (1998). [ "From the barrilla to the Solvay factory in Torrelavega: The Manufacture of Saltwort in Spain,"] "Antilia: The Spanish Journal of History of Natural Sciences and Technology," Vol. IV, Art. 1. ISSN: 1136-2049. Archived at WebCite from [ this original URL] on 2008-03-01.] Soda ash is now known to be predominantly sodium carbonate. In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy isolated a metallic element from caustic soda; he named the new element "sodium" to indicate its relationship to "soda." Before soda was synonymous (in U.S. English) with soft drinks, the word referred to "Salsola soda" and other saltwort plants, and to "sodas" derived from soda ash.

While the era of farming for soda ash is long past, "Salsola soda" is still cultivated as a vegetable that enjoys considerable popularity in Italy and with gourmets around the world. Its common names in Italian include Barba di Frate, Agretti roscana, and Liscari sativa. Of its culinary value, Frances Mayes has written that "Spinach is the closest taste, but while "agretti" has the mineral sharpness of spinach, it tastes livelier, full of the energy of spring." [Mayes, Frances (2000). "Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life of Italy," (Broadway), p. 15. ISBN 0-7679-0284-X.]

Botanical description and distribution

This annual, succulent plant can grow into small shrubs up to 0.7 meters tall (sometimes called sub-shrubs). It has fleshy green leaves with either green or red stems. The tiny flowers develop from inflorescences that grow out of the base of the leaves near the stem. [Jepson, Willis Linn (1993). "The Jepson manual: higher plants of California," James C. Hickman, editor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 514. ISBN 0-520-08255-9] Robertson, Kenneth R. and Clemants, Steven E. (1997). [ "Salsola Soda"] , from "Amaranthaceae" chapter, in: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. "Flora of North America North of Mexico." 12+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 4, pp. 399–402. ISBN 0-19-517389-9.]

"Salsola soda" is native in Eurasia and North Africa. Historically, it was well known in Italy, Sicily, and Spain. In modern Europe, it is also found on the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal and on the Black Sea coast. [Jalas, Jaakko and Suominen, Juha (1989). "Atlas Florae Europaeae: Distribution of Vascular Plants in Europe" (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), p. 78. ISBN 0-521-34271-6.] It has become naturalized along the Pacific coast of North America, ["County-Level Distribution of "Salsola soda"," from [ SMASCH] (Specimen Management for California Herbaria) database ( [ The University and Jepson Herbaria] , University of California, Berkeley). Entry retrieved December 13, 2006.] and there is concern about its invasiveness in California's salt marshes. [California Exotic Pest Plant Council, [ Exotic Pest Plants of Greatest Ecological Concern in California] , October, 1999.] [Baye, Peter (1998). " [ More on Salsola soda] ," "CalEPPC News" (Newsletter of the California Exotic Pest Plant Council), Vol. 6, No. 4 (Fall 1998).] It is also reported to be naturalized in South America.

Soda ash and the biology of sodium accumulation

The ashes obtained by the burning of "Salsola soda" can be refined to make a product called soda ash, which is one of the alkali materials essential to making soda-lime glass, soap, and many other products. The principal active ingredient is sodium carbonate, with which the term "soda ash" is now nearly synonymous. The processed ashes of "Salsola soda" contain as much as 30% sodium carbonate. [Barker, T. C., Dickinson, R., and Hardie, D. W. F. (1956). [ "The Origins of the Synthetic Alkali Industry in Britain,"] "Economica, New Series", Vol. 23, No. 90. (May, 1956), pp. 158–171.]

A high concentration of sodium carbonate in the ashes of "Salsola soda" occurs if the plant is grown in highly saline soils (i.e. in soils with a high concentration of sodium chloride), so that the plant's tissues contain a fairly high concentration of sodium ions. "Salsola soda" can be irrigated with sea water, which contains about 40 grams per liter of dissolved sodium chloride and other salts. When these sodium-rich plants are burned, the carbon dioxide that is produced presumably reacts with this sodium to form sodium carbonate.Fact|date=February 2007

[ "Rhoeo discolor"] . The large pink region in each cell is a vacuole. Sodium is sequestered in vacuoles by halophyte cells.
Photo: Markus Nolf, 2006.] It is surprising to find a higher concentration of sodium than of potassium in plant tissues; the former element is usually toxic, and the latter element is essential, to the metabolic processes of plants. Thus most plants, and especially most crop plants, are "glycophytes", and suffer damage when planted in saline soils. [Glenn, Edward P., Brown, J. Jed, and Blumwald, Eduardo (1999). "Salt Tolerance and Crop Potential of Halophytes," "Critical Review in Plant Sciences," Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 227–255. DOI: [ 10.1080/07352689991309207] ] [Xiong, Liming and Zhu, Jian-Kang (2002). (September 30, 2002) " [ Salt Tolerance] ," in Somerville, C. R. and Meyerowitz, E. M., eds, "The Arabidopsis Book." American Society of Plant Biologists, Rockville, MD. DOI: [ 10.1199/tab.0048] .] "Salsola soda", and the other plants that were cultivated for soda ash, are "halophytes" that tolerate much more saline soils than do glycophytes, and that can thrive with much larger densities of sodium in their tissues than can glycophytes.

The biochemical processes within the cells of halophytes are typically as sensitive to sodium as are the processes in glycophytes. Sodium ions from a plant's soil or irrigation water are toxic primarily because they interfere with biochemical processes within a plant's cells that require potassium, which is a chemically similar "alkali metal" element.Tester, Mark and Davenport, Romola (2003). "Na+ Tolerance and Na+ Transport in Higher Plants," [ "Annals of Botany"] 91: 503-527. DOI: [ 10.1093/aob/mcg058] .] The cell of a halophyte such as "Salsola soda" has a molecular transport mechanism that sequesters sodium ions into a compartment within the plant cell called a "vacuole." The vacuole of a plant cell can occupy 80% of the cell's volume; most of a halophyte plant cell's sodium can be sequestered in the vacuole, leaving the rest of the cell with a tolerable ratio of sodium to potassium ions.

In addition to "Salsola soda," soda ash has also been produced from the ashes of "Salsola kali" (another saltwort plant), of glasswort plants, and of kelp, a type of seaweed. The sodium carbonate, which is water soluble, is "" from the ashes (extracted with water), and the resulting solution is boiled dry to obtain the finished soda ash product. A very similar process is used to obtain potash (mainly potassium carbonate) from the ashes of hardwood trees. Because "halophytes" must also have potassium ions in their tissues, even the best soda ash derived from them also contains some potash (potassium carbonate), as was known by the 19th century. [Porcher, Francis Peyre (1863). "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural. Being also a Medical Botany of the Confederate States; with Practical Information on the Useful Properties of the Trees, Plants, and Shrubs," (Evans and Cogswell, Charleston), p. 133. Online version at (retrieved November 28, 2006).]

Plants were a very important source of soda ash until the early 19th century. In the 18th century, Spain had an enormous industry producing "barilla" (one type of plant-derived soda ash) from saltwort plants ("barrilla" in Spanish). Similarly, Scotland had a large 18th century industry producing soda ash from kelp; this industry was so lucrative that it led to overpopulation in the Western Isles of Scotland, and one estimate is that 100,000 people were occupied with "kelping" during the summer months. The commercialization of the Leblanc process for synthesizing sodium carbonate (from salt, limestone, and sulfuric acid) brought an end to the era of farming for soda ash in the first half of the 19th century.

Cultivation and culinary uses

The Italian name "agretti" is commonly used in English to refer to the edible leaves of "Salsola soda"; "Barba Di Frate" (or Friar's Beard) is the most common of the Italian names. This plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn. The seed is notorious for poor germination at about 30% to 40% standard, much like Rosemary. Though the plant is often grown in saltwater irrigated land in the Mediterranean Basin, it will grow without salt water. "Salsola soda" is harvested in bunches when small, or cropped regularly to encourage new growth when mature. It is most commonly boiled and eaten as a leafy vegetable; the recommendation is to cook it in boiling water until the leaves soften, and to serve while some bite (crunch) remains (much like Samphire). It can also be eaten raw; it is said to "taste grassy and slightly salty with a pleasant crunchy texture." [Lennartson, Margi (2005). "Organic Vegetable Production" (The Crowood Press, Ltd, ), p. 247. ISBN 1-86126-788-6.]

"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.

"Salsola soda" has also been studied as a "biodesalinating companion plant" for crops such as tomatoes and peppers when they are grown in saline soils. [Colla, G., Rouphael, Y., Fallovo, C., and Cardarelli, M. (2006). "Use of "Salsola soda" as a companion plant to improve greenhouse pepper ("Capsicum annuum") performance under saline conditions," "New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science", Vol. 34: 283 - 290. Online abstract at (retrieved November 28, 2006).] The "Salsola soda" extracts enough sodium from the soil to improve the growth of the crop plant, and better crop yields result despite the competition of the two plants for the remaining minerals from the soil.


External links

*" [ PLANTS Profile for "Salsola soda".] " Natural Resources Conservation Service, United State Department of Agriculture. Retrieved November 3, 2006.
*Excellent [ gallery of photographs] of "Salsola soda" ("soude commune") from Bouches du Rhône region of France. From "Banque de données Botaniques et Ecologiques", Universite Aix-Marseille, France. Retrieved November 30, 2006.
* [ "Salsola soda"] listing at website "Plants for a Future" ( Retrieved December 7, 2006.

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