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Saltbush sprawls out horizontally in dense low-laying mats that can reach 3 meters in diameter. The bright red Saltbush berries are a rounded tear-shape 5mm long. They have a juicy flesh that surrounds a crunchy seed, similar to pomegranate. Their tart cranberry flavor has a distinct saltiness with fresh grassy undertones. The grayish-green leaves of Saltbush are also edible and share the plant’s salty character.
Saltbush berries are available in the summer.
Australian Saltbush is a robust evergreen groundcover, botanically known as Atriplex semibaccata. A member of the Goosefoot family, its relatives are chard, spinach, beet and quinoa. When charred, ashes from the plants in this family may be used as salt substitutes due to their proclivity for accumulating flavors from the alkaline soils in which they grow. Meat from lamb that browse on Saltbush leaves have a high level of vitamin E and a mild, less gamey flavor.
Saltbush is a source of calcium, selenium, and nitrogen.
Saltbush berries may be used on their own or the leaves may be dried and used as a seasoning. Add raw berries to salads or couscous for a tart and salty balance. The dried leaves’ inherent salinity make them a natural compliment to seafood. The entire bush may be laid over a bed of coals to grill beef, pork or lamb over. As the branches and leaves char they offer a smoked saltiness to the meat as it cooks.
The Southwest Indians of the Hopi, Papago and Pima tribes ate Saltbush berries and used the leaves for seasoning wild game. Aboriginal tribes of Australia where Saltbush is native, also relied on its berries and leaves as a part of their diet.
Saltbush is native to southwestern Australia. Today it grows across parts of Africa, western Asia, Spain and along the Pacific coasts of North and South America. Saltbush thrives in sand and clay loam soils that have a slight salinity. It is a hearty drought tolerant species that can survive in hot barren climates, but often dies back in the driest of summer months.
Recipes that include Saltbush Berries. One is easiest, three is harder.