Tumbleweed — Tumbleweed (also known as Salsola, Saltwort or Russian thistle) is a genus of herbs, subshrubs, shrubs and small trees in the family Amaranthaceae, native to Africa, Asia, and Europe; they typically grow on flat, often dry and/or somewhat saline soils, with some species in saltmarshes. Recent genetic studies have however shown that the genus as traditionally circumscribed is paraphyletic, and many species are likely to be transferred to other genera in the future.
In several annual species, those known popularly as “tumbleweeds”, the plants break away from their roots in the autumn, and are driven by the wind as a light, rolling mass, scattering seed far and wide. The seeds are produced in such large numbers that the plant has not developed protective coatings or food reserves for the coiled plant embryos. The deep, ineradicable taproot survives to grow again the following season.
The genus Batis is also sometimes known as Saltwort, but is unrelated to salsola.
The leaves and shoots of many species are edible, especially when young and tender, and some are grown as vegetables, often used for salads, sushi, or as a garnish. The most commonly eaten European species is Salsola soda known in Italy as Barba di Frate or Agretti. In Japan, S. komarovii is a crop of moderate importance, known locally as okahijiki (literally “land hijiki”).
The seeds are also edible, although difficult to collect in quantity, and are sometimes ground into flour.