Stridolo (Silene vulgaris) is a gorgeous flowering plant native to the Mediterranean. Often described as an herb, we think it instead deserves full “vegetable” status. Find out how to grow, harvest, and eat stridolo in this article.
When we first grew stridolo about ten years ago, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. We also weren’t sure what to make with it in the kitchen or when to make it, since the plant’s flavor is rumored to vary significantly by season and stage of lifecycle.
Experience is a form of discovery. One of the many benefits of gardening is that you get to intimately know plants at each stage in their lifecycle, which often means different flavors, textures, and culinary opportunities.
With many years of growing stridolo now under our belt, we have more knowledge about its many virtues, peculiarities, and uses. We’ve also come to realize that many of the things said about this unique plant aren’t accurate.
I. An introduction to stridolo
Depending on the country and region you’re in, stridolo (Silene vulgaris) may go by different common names including:
- maiden’s tears
- bladder campion
Stridolo is native to the coastal/Mediterranean regions of Italy, Cyprus, and Spain, but has naturalized around the world, including in most of the United States.
The name stridolo is Italian and supposedly “comes from the sound produced by the leaves when you bring them to your lips.” (For the record, our stridolo leaves don’t make this sound when we eat them.) The plant is so popular in parts of Italy that there’s even a Stridolo Festival in April. (source)
Herb or vegetable: what’s the difference?
Is stridolo an herb or a vegetable? And what’s the difference between these two categorizations?
Herb typically refers to intensely flavored plants that you use in small quantities to add flavor to a dish. Herb examples: rosemary or thyme, which you would not want to eat by the bowlful. On the other hand, vegetables are plants that you would eat a large portion of at a single meal. Vegetable examples: tomatoes or lettuce.
These categories seem simple enough until you think about plants like basil, which you do eat large amounts of when making classic pesto recipes. So is stridolo an herb or vegetable?
Pretty much every source on the internet — from seed companies to chefs — describe stridolo as an herb. However, this categorization doesn’t square with our understanding of the plant because of the way it tastes and is best used…
What does stridolo taste like?
Another common claim is that stridolo tastes like a combination of tarragon, chicory, and rocket/perennial arugula. This has not been our experience no matter what time of year we eat it.
To us, stridolo tastes almost identical to pea greens, but with a slightly bitter finish (the bitter is virtually eliminated after cooking). The flavor lacks the intensity of an herb/seasoning; it’s delicate, nuanced, and mild.
Our description also comports with historical references:
“The boiled leaves of Silene inflata, a very common plant in Britain, taste like peas, and proved of great use in a famine at Minorca in 1685 when the harvest was destroyed by locusts.”
-Charles Frederick Partington, 1835 edition of The British Cyclopǽedia of Natural History
If you tried to use stridolo as a classical herb like rosemary in order to flavor a dish, you’d probably completely miss the flavor. Instead, stridolo is better used like spinach or kale, each of which stand on their own as veggies with distinct but subtle flavors that can easily be overpowered by more intense flavors.
Thus, we consider stridolo to be a vegetable not an herb, and use it as such in soups, omelettes, pastas, and other recipes.
Other inaccurate stridolo claims
Three other commonly repeated stridolo claims that have not proven true for us:
- Claim: Stridolo is strictly an annual plant.
- Claim: Stridolo grows well in poor soils, but doesn’t grow well in good soil.
- Claim: You have to eat stridolo before it flowers or the leaves don’t taste good.
In our Zone 7b gardens, stridolo does not grow as an annual. Rather, it grows as a short-lived perennial, e.g. for a few years. We’re not sure how cold a growing zone would be required for stridolo to be purely an annual plant.
Stridolo keeps growing right through our winters (our temps dip into the teens). During winter, it takes on a dense mounding structure before bouncing up and developing flowers/seeds in the spring and summer.
Also, despite claims to the contrary, we grow stridolo in garden soil that’s about as rich and deep as garden soil comes, and it grows perfectly well. The good news is if you have poor soil, stridolo is an excellent candidate to consider as it seems tolerant of many soil types – a virtue of being a barely-domesticated wild plant/weed.
When is the best time to harvest stridolo?
We’ve eaten stridolo in every single month of the year, including in the intense heat of late summer when the plant is covered with small, ornate flowers. So when does stridolo taste best?
For raw leaves (as in salad) stridolo is indeed best in the cold months prior to flowering. This is likely due to higher concentrations of sugar in the leaves, which certain plants produce like antifreeze to avoid cellular damage caused by ice crystals.
For our growing zone, this means winter through early spring is the best time to harvest stridolo. To harvest, simply pinch off tender stem/leaf bunches as-needed.
However, even during hot weather when the plant is in full bloom, the difference in leaf flavor isn’t that striking. Yes, the leaves are a bit more bitter and not as sweet, thus not ideal for eating fresh in large quantities. However, they’re still perfectly fine in volume in cooked dishes, especially since cooking virtually eliminates their bitter flavor.
For best texture, harvest stridolo in the morning when temperatures are above freezing or any time if the day is cool and overcast. Harvesting stridolo late on a sunny, warm day will yield limp leaves in the kitchen.
Edible stridolo flowers
Something we’ve never seen referenced: stridolo flowers aren’t just strikingly beautiful and beloved by pollinators, they’re also wonderful edibles. For best flavor, pick the flowers earlier in the day (ideally morning) while they’re still fresh and their nectaries are full.
Stridolo flowers aren’t large — only about the size of a pinky finger nail — but each stridolo plant produces huge numbers of flowers throughout the warm months all the way up until first frost. Lots of flowers means lots of seeds, some of which you can save to grow future plants.
Stridolo readily re-seeds in exposed soil when given the opportunity. Since we do no-till organic gardening with 3+ inch mulch layers in our beds, we have better luck intentionally starting seeds in seed cells, then transplanting outdoors.
II. The basics: how to grow stridolo
Ready to grow stridolo? While you can direct sow stridolo seeds outdoors in your garden, you’ll get better results starting seeds indoors, then transplanting.
Here are the basics for starting stridolo seeds:
1. When to start stridolo seeds:
Warm climate regions:
If you live in warmer climate regions (zones 7+) you can grow stridolo as a perennial. Start stridolo seeds in late winter/spring up until late summer.
Let seedlings develop in cells for 6-8 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors. Don’t push fall transplanting too long or the plants may not have enough time to get established in order to overwinter/perennialize.
Cold climate regions:
Ag Zones 6 or lower should plan to grow stridolo as an annual rather than a perennial. Let seedlings develop in cells for 6-8 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors.
2. Seed sowing information for stridolo:
- sow stridolo seeds 1/8″ – 1/4″ deep in cells;
- use a quality organic seed starting mix;
- germination temperatures for stridolo seeds are 60° – 75°F (15°C – 24°C);
- keep soil mix slightly damp — not wet or dry;
- seed germination should occur within one week.
3. Seedling care:
Modern windows are very energy efficient, which also means they block out a lot of the sun’s light spectrum as it comes through your windows. Thus, it can very difficult for indoor seedlings to get enough light — even in a sunny, south-facing window.
We’d recommend using a DIY grow light system for growing healthy seedlings year after year. It’s more work, but you can also wait a bit later in the season and bring seed flats in and out to get sun when temperatures are warm enough (40°F or higher).
To reduce the likelihood of fungal diseases like damping off in your seedlings, we’d recommend keeping light on your seed trays even BEFORE your stridolo seeds have germinated. Light combined with good airflow, and quality seed starting mix are the best ways to reduce the likelihood of damping off killing your seedlings.
As soon as your stridolo seeds have germinated, they’ll need a minimum of 6-8 hours of light per day. After 6-8 weeks, your stridolo seedlings will be ready to transplant outdoors in your garden.
IF they haven’t been acclimated to the intensity of outdoor light, be sure to “harden off” your transplants or the sun will severely sunburn or kill them. Harden off your stridolo seedlings as follows:
- Days 1-3: allow 3-5 hours of direct sunlight;
- Days 4-5: allow 5-6 hours of direct sunlight;
- Days 6-7: allow 6 hours of direct sunlight;
- After 1 week: transplant into final spot.
Once your stridolo plants are well-established, you can start harvesting! Stridolo is a great cut-and-come-again veggie; e.g. you don’t kill the plant when you harvest it.
We’d recommend growing at least five plants in order to be able to get regular weekly harvests.
III. How to eat stridolo
Now comes the fun part – eating stridolo! There are lots of ways to use stridolo in your kitchen.
As mentioned earlier, if you plan to eat the greens raw in solo or mixed green salads, it’s best to do so in the cool months prior to flower development.
Use cooked stridolo greens in any season to make soups, omelettes, pastas, and other recipes. As a cooked green, you can substitute stridolo 1:1 for spinach or kale in any recipe.
Below is a simple and versatile stridolo recipe you can use to try stridolo for the first time: stridolo omelette. If your like us, an omelette with seasonal, garden-fresh ingredients may show up on your table during any meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Enjoy!
Stridolo omelette (Silene vulgaris)
A simple omelette recipe made using the rare Italian vegetable stridolo, aka sculpit (Silene vulgaris). A perfect recipe for any meal!
- 3 eggs, duck or chicken
- 1/2 cup stridolo shoots/leaves, uncut
- 1/4 cup finely diced white or yellow onion
- 1/4 cup fresh-grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (to saute onions and stridolo)
- 1 tbsp whole organic grass milk
- 1/8 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
- sprinkle of fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tbsp butter (to coat omelette pan)
Over medium low heat, saute onions in olive oil until lightly browned. Once onions are browned, add stridolo with a small pinch of sea salt and continue to cook until wilted, about 1.5-2 minutes. Remove ingredients from pan and set aside.
Grate parmesan cheese; set aside. Whisk together eggs, milk, pepper, and tiny pinch of salt. Add egg mixture to buttered, medium-sized saute pan (we use a Wagner #8 cast iron for this sized omelette) over medium low heat. (One way to ruin an omelet is to cook it too hot - on our stove, we cook it at 2.8.) Once omelette has firmed up, sprinkle in cheese, then add stridolo onion mixture. You can either fold the omelette in half (traditional way, which means putting all toppings on one side) or into thirds with the middle partially exposed to show off the stridolo (the way we did it, which means putting all topping in the center third). Plate and enjoy that sublime yet subtle stridolo taste!
We hope you enjoy growing and using stridolo as much as we do!
Other unusual edible plants you’ll want to discover:
- How to grow and cook American groundnuts
- How to grow and eat Malabar spinach, a summer-hardy green
- Tradescantia virginiana: a native edible landscape plant
- Buckshorn plantain and related edible plantain “weeds”
- How to grow your own caffeine