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Are There Health Benefits of Salicornia?

Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 28, 2022

Salicornia, or glasswort, could easily win the title for most popular but underutilized plants. Every part of this plant, from the roots to the stem, leaves, and seeds, has huge economic value. For centuries, people have used Salicornia as food, medicine, fodder, and a way to rehabilitate wasteland. 

What is Salicornia?

Salicornia is a small succulent plant measuring less than 30 cm tall. It is normally green in color but turns red during autumn. Its stem and branches have cylindrical internodes. It produces hermaphroditic flowers that are wind pollinated and contain small, succulent fruits with a single seed.

Salicornia is also called sea asparagus or glasswort. It is a salt marsh plant and one of the most salt-tolerant species. It is mainly grown on the Western coast of Korea. 

Even in other parts of the world, Salicornia is enjoyed as a fresh vegetable, pickle, bio-salt, animal feed, vegetable oil, biodiesel, and cosmetic products.

Uses of Salicornia

Salicornia is known for its role in environmental preservation. Its bio-filtering and phytoremediation capabilities are important. Farmers grow Salicornia and use only seawater for irrigation. As a result, they save fresh water. Since saline wasteland and salt marshes are ideal for growing Salicornia, farmers can turn barren land, including deserts, into arable land with minimal resources by planting this vegetable. 

Salicornia seed can be used to make edible oil. The seeds and stems of Salicornia bigelovii are used to make oil that humans can eat and oil that is used to feed livestock. Salicornia seed poly-unsaturated oil is not only edible, though; it can be used as a biofuel. It has a high protein content and is rich in linoleic, oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids. Other nutrients in Salicornia seeds include protein, ash, and fiber.

For centuries, Salicornia has been used for food, medicine, ecology, and cosmetic applications. Some of those applications include:

  • The stems are boiled to make salt. In South Korea and other countries, this plant is favored as a fodder crop due to its protein-rich content. It is especially valued in places fresh water is scarce.
  • In some places, the seeds and stems of Salicornia rubric are to make sweet bread and as a gourmet product in salads.
  • Young stalks of Salicornia herbacea are eaten as a seasoned vegetable, salad, and fermented food called hamcho in Korea. Its seeds are used to make tea. 
  • In Nova Scotia, Canada, Salicornia europaea L. and Salicornia bigelovii stems are jarred with vinegar to make pickles. 

Besides being used for food and medicine, Salicornia has other uses. For instance, it is used for:

  • Manufacturing soap due to its high ash content
  • Source of soda (sodium carbonate) for manufacturing glass
  • Making coatings for protection, plastics, soaps, textiles, surfactants, lubricants, and organic pesticides
  • Making biofuel

Nutritional Value of Salicornia

The whole Salicornia plant contains vital nutrients, so you can consume any part of the plant to extract the following:

  • Vitamin A
  • Ascorbic and dehydroascorbic acids
  • Carotene  
  • Polyphenols  
  • Tocopherol
  • Flavonoid 
  • Lutein
  • Iron
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium 

Salicornia Health Benefits

Owing to its nutritional composition, Salicornia has numerous health benefits. The bioactive metabolites of Salicornia have important pharmaceutical applications. For instance, it provides: 

  • Oxomefruside. Effective against hypertension
  • Clonidine. Used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, and certain types of pain
  • Carmustine. Antineoplastic
  • Gangliosides. An anti-inflammatory

Other health benefits are discussed below:

Salicornia slows the aging process

Due to its lutein content, Salicornia helps prevent age-related macular degenerative diseases. 

It can be used as a salt substitute

The trans-ferulic acid in Salicornia has a protective effect on vascular dysfunction and hypertension. As a result, it can be used as a salt substitute. In a study conducted on rats, high salt intake resulted in increased blood pressure. However, when the rats were given Salicornia containing the same amount of sodium, it had little effect on their blood pressure. 

Salicornia prevents hypothyroidism

It contains iodine, which is important in the prevention of hypothyroidism.

It is an antibacterial agent

Salicornia has powerful antibacterial activity, which is helpful to the body when this plant is used as food, medicine, or cosmetics.

Medicinal Applications of Salicornia

Some Salicornia species are widely used in folk medicine, and recent studies have found that this vegetable shows important biological properties such as antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, and cytotoxic activities.

These properties are why, for a long time, Salicornia has been prescribed in traditional medicines to treat:

  • Bronchitis
  • Hepatitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Intestinal ailments
  • Nephropathy
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Diabetes

Salicornia is what you might call a miracle plant. On top of its use in the food and pharmaceutical industries, it can replace fossil fuels. Salicornia is an excellent candidate for new green energy solutions as well as land reclamation efforts around the world. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: “Sodium Reduction in Bread: A Role for Glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima J. Woods).”

Environmental and Experimental Botany: “An overview of the emerging trends of the Salicornia L. genus as a sustainable crop.”

Natural Products Research Reviews: “An overview of Salicornia genus: The phytochemical and pharmacological profile.”

Semantic Scholar: “SALICORNIA HERBACEAE: BOTANICAL, CHEMICAL AND PHARMACOLOGICAL REVIEW OF HALOPHYTE MARSH PLANT.”

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