Thursday, June 4, 2009

Perennial Vegetable Profile: Seakale

Seakale (Crambe maritima) is an unique perennial vegetable that is not grown nearly enough in the United States, Canada or elsewhere. Also known as Sea Kale, Silver Kale and Scurvy Grass, seakale does not actually belong to the kale family, but instead is member of the cabbage family of plants.

As the name suggests, this is a plant native to coastal areas of Europe, where it grows wild from the North Atlantic to the Black Sea. It became well known in the United States due to Thomas Jefferson, who praised it in his Garden Book of 1809 and frequently grew it in his own gardens. However, seakale is grown very rarely in the United States and Canada (although well suited to the climate). It is, however, quite popular in certain regions of Europe, including England and France.

One reason that seakale is probably not grown as much as it should be in the United States and Canada, is that it has a reputation for being labor intensive. This is because traditionally the plant was blanched, using pots, baskets and similar containers. But blanching this perennial vegetable is not necessary, and unblanched it is actually more nutritious to eat. It can be cooked and served in the manner of most cooking greens, and makes an excellent dish on its own sauted with some garlic in olive oil.

Although it may be a challenge to find cuttings of this perennial vegetable in the United States and Canada, once acquired it is easy to propagate. It should not, however, be confused with the seakale beet, which is a completely different plant. You may be able to find Seakale cuttings online at Forest Farm and Heronswood, but if you are unable to find root cuttings of this perennial vegetable it can be grown by seed as well. You may be able to find the seeds from an online heirloom seed vendors, such as Bountiful Gardens. Growing from seed, however, will take nearly two years before harvest, whereas with root cuttings you may be able to harvest the first year after planting.

For more information and descriptions of perennial vegetables such as seakale, please return to the Perennial Vegetables Home Page. Thank you for visiting!