I have shopped at the Queen Victoria Market ever since I moved to Melbourne from Adelaide. I am always excited by new produce, whether it is new in season or because it is new to me. I saw the vlita at one of the stalls where I often buy my vegetables. I had never seen vlita before – sold as a very large bunch of a long, green leafy plant with its roots still attached. Greens leafy vegetables in January are not very common.
One of the stall owners is a Calabrese (from the region of Calabria in Southern Italy) so I assumed – incorrectly – that it was a wild green, traditionally eaten like spinach in Italy and one I was not familiar with.
As I continued my way down the aisle, the vlita was attracting a lot of attention, but from people of Greek heritage, not Italians. I was stopped four times and they were surprised to hear that I knew the name and that I intended to sauté it in olive oil with garlic. A couple of them mentioned the word horta.
Further down the aisle, I was stopped by yet another woman who told me these plants were much appreciated in her country – India. She said that she was more familiar with a purple tinged variety. So home I went with my various bits of information, determined to discover more.
Yes, vlita is a common weed in Australia, but it is a wild green and one of many gathered and eaten in other parts of the world including Greece, Japan, India, South America and Taiwan. The taste is a little like a beet or spinach, only more grassy.
Vlita belongs to the amaranth family and this variety is known as palmer amarynth.
The amaranthus tricolor or red amaranth is sold more in commercial quantities than the green variety and is a very attractive plant; the leaves are much more colourful than palmer amaranth and it is sold in many stalls which sell Asian vegetables.
Alternative names are een choi (Chinese) phak khom suan (Thai) radên (Vietnamese) bayam (Indonesian).
In different parts of Greece, it is usually served as a cooked green salad. Horta are leafy green vegetables or wild greens and vlita is one of these.
Some varieties of the plant are grown as a grain crop for their seeds – which are very nutritious and can be made into flour – and amaranth flour is becoming increasingly well known as a nutritious alternative to wheat, especially in America.
The young leaves and tender stalks are picked and eaten before the plant flowers. They were sold to me in large bunches with the roots attached – picked this way, they last longer.
Italians cook greens, as the Greeks do: blanched/ whilted and drained, then seasoned with salt, olive oil and lemon juice and presented hot or cold as a cooked salad.
My favourite cooking method (common mostly in the South of Italy) is to precook the greens in boiling, salted water, drain them well and then sauté them in olive oil, chilli and garlic. They can be eaten hot or cold.
4 thoughts on “SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA”
Marisa, would you know where I can buy sanapu from?
Is it available in Australia? I’m in sydney.
Unfortunately I haven’t eaten it since my parents passed away 20 years ago.
My father was from Ragusa and it was a staple for us growing up during winter and spring.
I really love the stuff and miss it dreadfully.
Btw, I lve only recently found your site and love it.
Hi Frank, glad you like the site. Unfortunately I have never seen sanapu here. All of those wonderful wild greens that one can find in Sicily (and other wild greens in different parts of Italy) do not seem to be here – even the wild fennel we have in Australia is different to the one I have seen and eaten in Sicily. I did find wild chicory in New Zealand! How happy was I! Do type in ‘Wild Greens’ in my search engine and also ‘Ragusa’.
I did have an uncle who would gather lassine and chicory from his local parks in eastern sydney.
He would curse when the council mowed and maintained them, cutting short his harvesting.
The only traditional verdura I can source these days is “scalora” endive.
As for sanapu, I will see if I can find its scientific name and that might lead to a seed vendor.
Frank, you might enjoy reading “Sicilian Lives” a book by Donilo Dolci a peace worker who arrived in Sicily in 1952.. He has a section in the book about impoverished Sicily
A quote from my book “Sicilian Seafood Cooking” in my section called Erbe Spontanie:
Hunger and famine have always played a part in Sicilian food. Donilo
Dolci, in , quotes a poor labourer who makes a living from selling
wild greens: ‘There’s five or six kinds of greens … growing wild – nobody
plants them – chicory, cabbage, asparagus, fennel, borage and sorb-thistle …
you go out walking and what you find, you pick. That’s the way life goes: fill
your sack or else.’