Salicornia

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cross posted from The Dream Antilles with a special h/t to Mishima for including it in Thursday’s DD Times

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Salicornia

Salicornia, believe it or not, is a plant that can grow in inhospitable, desert soils and can be watered with, of all things, ocean salt water.  Never heard of this?  Neither have I.  I’ve sat on the beach and wondered what it would take to remove the salt from sea water to grow things in sand, but I never thought about reversing the process,  leaving the salt in the water and finding something that would grow in it.  In today’s LA Times I found an “ah hah” moment.

Please join me below.

A few miles inland from the Sea of Cortez, amid cracked earth and mesquite and sun-bleached cactus, neat rows of emerald plants are sprouting from the desert floor.

The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this incongruous swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming.  /snip

That’s where salicornia comes in.

A so-called halophyte, or salt-loving plant, the briny succulent thrives in hellish heat and pitiful soil on little more than a regular dousing of ocean water. Several countries are experimenting with salicornia and other saltwater-tolerant species as sources of food. Known in some restaurants as sea asparagus, salicornia can be eaten fresh or steamed, squeezed into cooking oil or ground into high-protein meal.

Carl Hodges, who’s featured in the article, has far, far bigger plans than just growing salicornia.  The project is ingenious and it wastes nothing.  The plan is breathtaking:

The enterprise recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia here in rural Sonora, where Hodges has been doing preparatory research for decades. That crop will provide seed for a major venture planned 50 miles north in the coastal city of Bahia de Kino. Global Seawater is attempting to lease or buy 12,000 acres there for what it envisions will be the world’s largest seawater farm.

The plan is to cut an ocean canal into the desert to nourish commercial ponds of shrimp and fish. Instead of dumping the effluent back into the ocean, the company would channel it further inland to fertilize fields of salicornia for biofuel. The seawater’s next stop would be man-made wetlands. These mangrove forests could be “sold” to polluters to meet emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

“Nothing is wasted,” Hodges said.

This is such an ingenious idea.  And thinking about it is such utter delight.  If this were still the ’60’s, you’d say, “Wow. Far out.”

There’s a story– I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not– that until the 16th Century, people in Europe were unable to see the color blue.  Then something happened in the Renaissance and then (I don’t know if it was gradual or all of a sudden) they were all able to perceive it.  I don’t remember supposed reason for the shift.  The reason in retrospect doesn’t seem as important as the occurrence of the change in perception itself.

And now Salicornia.  The Salicornia story has the same, huge, surprising quality of discovery.  The cliche for this might be a “quantum shift of consciousness.”   It’s that good.

Which brings me back to the mundane.  This whole idea would be less wonderful if salicornia didn’t taste good. Apparently, salicornia is quite salty tasting, but there are favorable reviews of people who have enjoyed eating it.  It also has it’s own Wiki with this about eating it:

Salicornia europaea is highly edible, either cooked or raw.[4] In England it is one of several plants known as samphire (see also Rock samphire); the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre, which means “St. Peter’s Herb.”[5] In the United States the edible species are known as sea beans.[6]

Samphire is usually cooked, either steamed or microwaved, and then coated in butter. After cooking, it resembles seaweed in colour, and the flavour and texture are like young spinach stems or asparagus, and despite its texture when raw, after cooking is not at all stringy or tough. Samphire is very often used as a suitably maritime accompaniment to fish or seafood.

And, of course, there are many, many  recipes.  Thank goodness.  The whole idea wouldn’t be as promising if people generally didn’t like to eat it.  Then it would be relegated to being like sawgrass, another animal feed and source of biofuel.

21 comments

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  1. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did. Thanks for reading.

  2. thanks for posting it.

    I’d never heard of it either.  Even if it doesn’t taste all that great, if it can be grown and sold cheaply it should find a market.  And butter makes everything taste better.

    Even if it doesn’t get eaten on a wide scale, the benefits of using its by-products to replace corn oil and corn meal could be substantial.  The corn market needs all the help it can get.

  3. Between Chaucer and the Enlightenment, English underwent “The Great Vowel Shift.”

    http://facweb.furman.edu/~mmen

    I don’t know about the color blue…but it certainly sounds apocryphal.

  4. I guess you deserve one more:


    • nocatz on July 11, 2008 at 2:32 am

    The U. of A.  has been on this for a while.  Some other resources

    http://www.ussl.ars.usda.gov/p

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook….

  5. Seaweed comes in many varieties, and it tastes great.  I am surprised that this plant you write about grows in the ground, but seaweed is another possibility for making use of saltwater,  

    • Robyn on July 11, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    “Nothing is wasted, except the desert.”

  6. there’s a trio of entrepreneurs, recent college grads that have found a way to farm raise shrimp.

    Interesting to know the effluent from their place is useful for nourishing some kind of plant.

  7. So much potential — (shhhh, before some mammoth corporation gets wind of this — probably already has, though).

    Thank you for this, davidseth!

    • Edger on July 11, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I did a quick search, and there is also an old CNN article from 1996 that talks about Hodges, and says that salicornia …

    …can provide more high-quality vegetable oil per plant than soybeans. Europeans perk up salads with the succulent tips of the vegetable, which is known as the “samphire” in its haute cuisine incarnation.

    Just as encouraging as the production of a useful saltwater crop is the chain reaction involved in the process. The salt water at Hodges farm has already nourished two food crops before it reaches the salicornia.

    Shrimp are first grown in it, and their waste makes the water a perfect environment for a fish called tilapia, an increasingly popular menu item.

    “They get a double use of that water, and all the waste from the fish is extra fertilizer for the field crops,” explained Kevin Fitzsimmons of the University of Arizona, which is working to increase yields from saltwater farming.

    Like the cold fusion of farming, sort of. 😉

    • RUKind on July 12, 2008 at 11:20 am

    http://globalseawater.com/

    Very interesting. At least one of their Directors has gone from selling sugar water to selling salt water.

    WALSTIB. And it keeps getting stranger. The GVS? Blue?

    Here’s some news that supercedes wars and energy:

    http://time-blog.com/china_blo

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/C

    http://washingtonbureau.typepa

    This comes a day after Zhang Lijun, the deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration, also said air quality is getting better. He repeated that China has seen the number of “blue sky” days increase from just 100 in 1998 to 246 last year.

    That point, however, needs some clarification. When Chinese officials talk about “blue sky” days, they don’t mean days when the sky is really blue. They mean days when sunshine can penetrate the haze and create a shadow. The sky is still an icky gray. We do get occasional clear days in Beijing when the sky is blue but they are a tiny fraction of the 246 “blue sky” days.

    The last one – McClatchy in the block above – is especially worth the jump.

    This is the Garden of Eden?

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