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Crambe tataria* or C. tatarica. A close relative of sea kale and very similar overall, although Tartar bread plant is not a seaside plant and tolerates a wider range of temperatures. We mainly eat the leaves and think of this plant like a perennial, spicy mustard green. The leaves are a little thicker than kale, but they still make a nice addition to salads. The can be softened in oil or cooked if you find them too tough. They can be very spicy, particularly in periods of drought. Traditionally, the roots are eaten, but I haven’t yet found a preparation that I really like. They are similar to sea kale, with a mild rutabaga-like flavor when cooked, but a bitter aftertaste. Raw, they taste a lot like horseradish and it has been reported that they can be used as a substitute. The name refers to the traditional practice of drying and grinding roots to make a sort of flour. All parts are edible raw or cooked and they can generally be prepared just like sea kale. Sturtevant reported that the roots grow to the thickness of a man’s arm, but they probably take several years to get to that size. Ours grow at about the same rate as sea kale roots.
Tartar bread plant “thongs” are short sections of root. (Ours are at least four inches long and 1/3 inch diameter.) Whenever the soil is workable, plant them vertically one to two inches deep with the thicker cut end closest to the surface of the soil and you’ll have new plants in the spring. You should let the thongs grow for two years before digging the plants for a root harvest.
Tartar bread plant seeds are difficult to germinate, so thongs are a much more reliable way to start new plants. It seems to perform best in alkaline soils, so will usually benefit from some lime in the Pacific Northwest.
2 thongs / $7.50
* I am not completely confident in the identity of this plant. The seed was labeled C. tataria but it is possible that it might instead be Crambe orientalis or a hybrid of C. tataria and C. orientalis. These plants are not easy to tell apart and they appear to cross easily. The form of the plant is consistent with C. tataria, but the horseradish flavor of the roots suggests C. orientalis. Both are edible, with a history of human use. We’re growing a lot of plants from both C. tataria and C. orientalis, so hopefully we will solve the mystery before long.