Struggle with greens that bolt in the heat or can’t handle a little frost?
Want something different from the usual salad greens? Try growing erba stella. It’s fantastic because it’s cold-tolerant, but doesn’t bolt quickly in warm weather.
This incredible salad green is known for its crunchy texture and salty, nutty flavor, which is why it’s sought after in Italy. It’s a cold-weather loving salad green that grows right through winter in temperate areas, but heat doesn’t faze it.
Sound good? Here’s what you need to know about this lesser-known, but oh-so-delicious green.
What is Erba Stella
I know this wonderful salad green as erba stella (Plantago coronopus). You may know it as minutia or bucks horn plantain. Whatever you call it, you should be growing erba stella in your garden.
Although it isn’t well known these days, it has been around in the U.S. since at least the 1700s.
The name erba stella means “star grass” in Italian, and the plant looks like skinny arugula and grows in a similar pattern to a clump of grass. It grows in zones 5 to 9. Given that it’s cold and frost tolerant, try growing it in a greenhouse, tunnels, or cold frames outside of these areas.
When shopping for them, you may see the seeds labeled as:
- Erba stella
- Herba stella
- Star herb
- Bucks horn plantain
The seeds used to be impossible to find in the U.S. and was only slightly more available in England and Europe (outside of Italy.) These days, it’s available at most specialty seed retailers.
How to Grow Erba Stella
Erba stella grows naturally in Eurasia and North Africa, so with such a broad range of environments, it’s no wonder the plant is adaptable. Some gardeners grow it as an annual, especially in some zones in North America where temperatures get freezing, but technically it’s a perennial.
Plant in full sun, but partial shade is acceptable. For summer plantings, provide partial shade against the hottest part of the day.
Erba stella grows well in most soil types. It grows naturally on Europe’s rocky shorelines, so it can even grow in saline soils.
Minutina will grow for you just about where ever you plant it, truth be told. It’s probably the hardiest green I’ve grown in over a decade.
When to Plant
In warm areas, plant in spring as soon as the ground is workable. Erba stella is cold tolerant and gets even sweeter tasting after a frost.
It overwinters comfortably with little effort from you, especially in mild winters. Cover or protect the plants from a heavy freeze.
In cool areas, wait for mid to late spring to sow outside.
You can sow seeds in small pots in a cold frame or greenhouse in the winter. Transplant when the seedlings are big enough to handle and the ground is workable.
Erba stella prefers moist, cool days like spring, fall or early winter.
Erba stella grows well in pots. Use a medium-sized container filled with a potting medium. Sprinkle the seeds sparsely. They are tiny and you’ll need to thin them out a lot if you sprinkle too liberally. You want one plant per 6 inch container.
Cover lightly and spray the soil to keep it moist. Water well as the seedlings grow.
Erba stella seeds are tiny, so avoid sprinkling too thickly when sowing. You will end up thinning out more than you keep and wasting lots of seeds.
Plant 1/4 inch deep about two inches apart. Cover very lightly and water. Thin seedlings out to about 6 inches apart.
Germination temperature is usually between 45°F and 75°F. You could see the seeds appear in as little as 2 days to 15 days, depending on the temperature when you plant.
Make successive plantings to have a continuous supply.
Caring for Erba Stella
Because erba stella grows in most soil types and doesn’t require rich soil, you can get away with planting it in most soils – except clay. It prefers loose, well-draining soil that’s high in organic matter.
I prepare the soil with a balanced fertilizer and plenty of well-rotted compost because I don’t want any soil-borne issues. Test your and keep it healthy and well-fed.
Erba stella needs plenty of water to keep the leaves succulent. Make sure you don’t let the soil dry out. Don’t overwater as erba stella won’t thrive with wet feet.
The best technique for erba stella is to monitor the plant. If it looks slightly wilted, water it and if it looks healthy, test the soil for dryness and only water where necessary.
Pruning and Mulching
Remove any dead or wilted leaves so they don’t infect any other parts of the plant.
Mulch your erba stella with straw mulch in fall. This should keep them going right up to Christmas.
Companion Planting for Erba Stella
- Miners Lettuce
- Corn Salad
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Erba Stella
Erba stella is a hardy survivor and often gets through a season with no problems at all. Like all plants though, sometimes pests and diseases get into the garden. I find that when erba stella does have issues, it’s because another plant close by started and spread it.
I planted erba stella near some beets that developed leaf spot. Eventually, the disease made its way to the closest minutina plants.
I removed the leaves as soon as I noticed the spotting and yellowing. While it generally won’t cause too much damage to your plants, it’s unsightly and can reduce photosynthesis.
Avoid watering plants overhead, water at the base instead. Avoid overfertilizing and crowding. You can also spray plants with a mix of 1 teaspoon of baking soda to one gallon of water.
Aphids cause more problems than just sucking the juice from the insides of the plant. They excrete honeydew, which is a sweet substance favored by ants, wasps, and other undesirable insects.
There are lots of tactics for dealing with aphids, so don’t worry. Worst case, use neem oil or pyrethrum if necessary.
Leafhoppers have toxic saliva that causes white spotting and yellowing of leaves when they suck the juices out of the undersides of leaves.
If you have problems with leafhoppers, as many North American gardens do, use diatomaceous earth when the erba stella is small.
Apply lightly to any areas where leafhoppers and any other pest insects are. Diatomaceous earth works by dehydrating the insect, eventually killing it. Use it for all pests, but be careful as it’s deadly to many beneficial insects.
You can also use insecticidal soap to deal with them.
Slugs and Snails
When the weather is cooler and erba stella is in its prime, slugs and snails move in. Luckily, there are lots of all-natural ways to deal with them.
Erba stella is a tender green, and snails and slugs love it. Use snail and slug pellets or head out at night with a flashlight and remove them from the plants by hand. If you don’t have the heart to squash them, move them to a location as far from your vegetable garden as possible.
Harvesting and Using Erba Stella
Harvest when the leaves are young and tender. Choose leaves that are about 6 inches in length. Once the plant starts to blossom, the seeds turn tough and bitter.
Cut the leaf with scissors, leaving the nub at the base on the plant. This will encourage regrowth for another picking.
Don’t give up on it once the erba stella starts to flower. The blossoms are also edible and have loads of uses.
Add minutina to other greens like miner’s lettuce and arugula. Use it in pesto, serve it with beets, add to an avocado salad and so much more. My favorite way to eat erba stella is to sautee it in olive oil with snow peas, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
The flowers make a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.