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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. 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.” In the United States the edible species are known as sea beans.
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.