Research Article: Salicornia: evaluating the halophytic extremophile as a food and a pharmaceutical candidate

Date Published: April 18, 2016

Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg

Author(s): Seema Patel.


Food insecurity is a major issue in current scenario where a large section of mankind is at risk of insufficient diet. As food productivity has its limits, the prospecting of unutilized or underutilized flora as food candidates is collectively recognized as a sustainable option. In the past decade, a number of obscure plants have been identified to be rich in dietary components and deemed fit for integration into the food platter. This review discusses a candidate Salicornia, belonging to family Amaranthaceae. This halophyte has a broad geographical distribution, and phytochemical profiling has indicated its food relevance. An array of functional nutrients as fibers, polyphenols, and flavonoids have been detected in Salicornia. Though high salt, oxalate and saponin content in the plants are anti-nutrients, they can be removed to justify usage of Salicornia as a ‘sea vegetable’. Apart from culinary relevance, medicinal attributes like immunomodulatory, lipid-lowering, antiproliferative, osteoprotective, and hypoglycemic render this lesser-known marsh plant significant for phytochemical studies. This appraisal is expected to be useful towards further research and popularization of this extremophile halophyte.

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Salicornia, also commonly and variably known as pickleweed, glasswort, sea beans, sea asparagus, crow’s foot greens, and samphire is a halophyte, belonging to Amaranthaceae family (Singh et al. 2014). In fact, Salicornia name has originated from the Latin word meaning ‘salt’. Studies report that some species, for example Salicornia europaea show tolerance towards salinity as high as 3 % NaCl (Yamamoto et al. 2009). This fleshy plant is found at the edges of wetlands, marshes, sea shores, and mudflats (Fig. 1a), actually on most alkaline flats (Smillie 2015). It has a geographical distribution spanning 4 continents such as North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. This plant has spongy stems with diminutive scale-like leaves, inconspicuous flowers and fruits. The green plant turns orange, pink to reddish in autumn, before dying in winter (Fig. 2a, b). The common Salicornia species with their botanical names, common names and geographical distribution have been presented in Table 1.Fig. 1aSalicornia blanketing a marsh in Upper Newport Bay, California. bSalicornia infected by CuscutaFig. 2aSalicornia in spring and summer is green and fit for consumption, bSalicornia in autumn is red and purple, with high salt concentration, is not suitable for food purposeTable 1Most studied species of Salicornia and their geographical distributionsNo.Botanical nameCommon namesGeographical RangeReferences1Salicornia europaeaCommon glasswortBritain, France, IrelandZhang et al. (2014)2Salicornia bigeloviiDwarf glasswortUSA, MexicoZhang et al. (2015)3Salicornia brachiataUmari keeraiIndiaJha et al. (2012)4Salicornia virginicaAmerican glasswort, pickleweedCanada, USA, MexicoRosso et al. (2005)5Salicornia maritimaSlender glasswortCanada, USA, Mexico–6Salicornia ramosissimaPurple glasswortFrance, IberiaIsca et al. (2014)7Salicornia herbacea–KoreaCho et al. (2015)8Salicornia persica–IranSingh et al. (2014)

From historical usage of this halophyte for glass making, the shift towards biofuel harvest occurred (Lieth and Al Masoom 1993). Salicornia though not primarily or widely consumed; its ingestion as food and medication is, however, not altogether new. Trials and nutritional assessments on it for human edibility are novel. As outlined in above sections, Salicornia both have its pros and cons as a food candidate. Additional research might better illuminate on its relevance for consumption. In this regard, some significant areas pertaining to it have been discussed below.

Salicornia is touted as a ‘secondary vegetable’, ‘famine food’ and ‘plant for future’. Despite multiple evidences of its health benefits it languishes as a mere marsh plant. As food insecurity looms large, such nutrition sources should not be wasted. Further, saline habitats have low agronomic relevance, so this halophyte can be cultivated to make better use of them. Further investigation in the line of the suggested area is expected to promote its popularity and provide an abundant source of nutrition in the times of ‘food insecurity’.




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