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Too much sodium is a major problem in modern diets. The truth is that this is more a result of processed food than the overuse of table salt. First and foremost, for those trying to lower their sodium intake, minimizing processed food—frozen dinners, canned meals, and so on—is likely to be a much more effective way of reducing sodium than getting rid of salt.
However, many people do choose to use salt substitutes or eliminate salt from recipes, and the good news is that there are a lot of simple, plant-based options for doing that. Some of these might even work as a crop in the garden or a feature in edible landscaping. Others can be foraged in their native habitats. Many offer healthful benefits.
With that in mind, here are some of the possibilities for using plants as salt substitutes, information on where and how to grow them, as well as how to prepare them.
1. Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)
Commonly identified as weed, lambsquarter is actually a highly nutritious edible plant that grows and spreads quickly. It can get to be six or seven feet tall in one summer season, and if left to flower, it will plant itself for the next year.
Though it is native to North America, lambsquarter has naturalized throughout the continental US. It has a creamy leaf that can be used similarly to spinach, both as a raw and cooked ingredient.
Lambsquarter is very good at mining minerals from the soil, and these are evident in the form of whitish powder on the leaves. Some people dehydrate the leaves and powder them to use as a salt substitute.
2. Salicornia (Salicornia europaea)
Source: Earth Titan/Youtube
Also known as sea asparagus, samphire greens, and sea pickles, Salicornia is a salt-tolerant (halophyte) succulent plant that grows well in marsh areas. It is eaten as a vegetable sometimes, particularly in fine dining environments.
Salicornia can be grown as an annual in USDA Zones 3-9 and as a perennial in Zones 10-11. It performs best in moist, muddy soils with a notable salinity level. Unfortunately, cultivating it can be difficult and often requires adding salt to the soil.
However, Salicornia is being recognized more and more as a superfood, and it is being used in producing “green” salts. To make it at home, Salicornia should be dehydrated and pulverized to a powder.
3. Coltsfoot (Tussiliago farfara)
Part of the aster/daisy family, coltsfoot is native to Asia and Europe, but it has naturalized in the Americas as well. It is used medicinally and as food though it does have some level of toxicity that must be accounted for.
The flowers of coltsfoot, which are similar to dandelions, show up before any leaves on the plant. It is common in arable lands and spreads readily via rhizomes and seeds. It likes shady, damp places like ditches and works best in US Zones 4-8.
It’s the leaves that are needed for making salt. Rather than dehydrating them, however, the dried leaves of coltsfoot are rolled up and burned slowly. The remaining ashes are used as salt.
4. Hickory (Carya spp.)
Source: Twila Gosselin/Youtube
Many species of hickory trees grow in the United States, including pignut, shagbark, and mockernut, as well as different pecans. These wild trees are usually valued for their nuts, which are great for human consumption but, more often, feed wildlife.
They can be grown at home, but they are huge trees and take many years to produce. More than likely, utilizing these trees for food crops will be done via foraging.
To get a salt substitute, the roots of the hickory tree are collected, diced up into small pieces, and boiled in water for a long while. The roots are then removed, and the water is left to boil until all evaporates. The black substance remaining is a salt substitute.
5. Magic Salt-Free Seasoning
Many different plants are suggested as salt substitutes, and by and large, the idea behind these substitutions is to create some so flavorful the lack of salt goes unnoticed. Fresh herbs and spices can go a long way.
Chef Paul Prudhomme developed a line of “Magic Salt-Free Seasoning” blends that are tasty and composed of basic spices, many of which can be grown at home. These are all-purpose seasonings minus the salt.
Black pepper, chilies, bell peppers, onion, and garlic make a great base for beginning to create a salt substitute. These are grown, dried, and pulverized. Herbs like thyme and savory can be added as well.
Of course, salt substitutes are now available in stores and online, and they can work. But, for those who like a good project and are trying to grow their own food, it might be possible and interesting to add a salt substitute to the garden.
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