Saltbush (Atriplex halimus)

I first came across saltbush (Atriplex halimus) at the Plants for a Future site down in Cornwall. I loved the salty taste of the leaves and spent many years trying to establish it in Aberdeen. Unfortunately we are on the edge of its range here and I lost a succession of plants, usually over winter. I think I have finally cracked it though, as my latest plant has survived many years, including temperatures down to -11°C this winter. In common with many Mediterranean plants, its real enemy is not so much winter cold as winter wet, so the key to survival is giving it a really well-drained spot. I have mine at the apex of a raised bed, sheltered from the rising sun in winter to minimise frost damage. Planting early in the growing season helps to give the plant the best root development by the time winter comes. If you acquire a plant in late summer, autumn or winter, keep it inside until you can plant it out in spring.

You might want to grow saltbush even if you weren’t interested in eating it, as it’s a very attractive plant. It eventually grows to be a small shrub with silvery-grey leaves. These leaves are the edible part, with a salty tang that is nice mixed into a salad. The saltiness of the leaves does seem to vary with the time of year and the amount of salt in the soil – at least it seemed to me that they were saltier after I mulched my plant with seaweed one year. The best way to pick the leaves is to nip out whole growing tips. This gives you the tenderest leaves and encourages the production of more. It also helps to keep the plant compact and stop it getting leggy. A cultivar called ‘Cascais’ is worth getting hold of as it has larger leaves and shorter internodes than the wild type, giving you more leaf and less stem.

One advantage of saltbush is that it is very easy to grow from cuttings, which means that you can take a backup copy, as it were, if you’re worried about losing your main plant over winter. In the UK, I can send a cutting to anyone interested in giving it a go – see my seed list for details.

4 thoughts on “Saltbush (Atriplex halimus)

  1. Peter

    Hi Alan,
    I haven’t heard of this before,-so for an ignoramus like me what is it good for,-nutritionally speaking?

    1. Alan Post author

      Hi Peter
      I haven’t really investigated that since I don’t plan to make it a major component of my diet – just another leaf in a salad. I imagine that like most fresh shoots is should provide fibre, carbohydrates, protein and some vitamins. I notice online that it has been quite widely investigated for anti-diabetic properties, but my philosophy is always just to try to get a good diversity of plants in my diet.

  2. sailaja

    Can these leaves be used as a replacement for salt which is not looked as a source of blood pressure and other health issues.

  3. Gardener Post author

    I wouldn’t view it as a replacement for salt, but perhaps as a potential help in reducing someone’s salt intake. The recognised way to do this is to gradually reduce the amount of salt used in meals since it takes time for tastes to adapt and for people who have built up a high salt intake not to find unsalted food unbearably bland and boring. Having some leaves with inherent saltiness in a meal might help people to make this reduction in added salt.


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