One of the finest perennial spring vegetables for temperate climates. Since ancient times, seakale has been a traditionally harvested wild vegetable of northern and western European coastlines. Evidence of use stretches at least back to Mesolithic coastal southern Sweden (around 6500 BC). “Crambe” is in fact an ancient Greek word for a type of cabbage. It differs from the usual cabbage or kale with its perennial habit and form, growing in clumps of rosettes of thick succulent leaves close to the ground. It shares a close genetic affinity to cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and Radish (Raphanus sativus).
A very popular Victorian delicacy, it eventually fell into obscurity until its resurgence in recent years. Traditionally, terra cotta forcing pots were used in spring to exclude light and force very tender sweet pale growth (similar to rhubarb or asparagus culture). A bucket can be used to the same effect, however this variety will produce mild shoots even without light exclusion.
Individual young leaves make a wonderful addition to spring salads or stir-fries. In its second year, small “broccolini” heads can be lightly steamed or eaten raw. Pollinated flowers become round light-green pods (resembling peas) which offer a delicious sweet crunch with a slight radish flavor. The root has a pleasant flavor and can be roasted or boiled as well.
This Improved Lilywhite is a new reselection of the old Victorian variety with a much finer flavor compared to wild seakale. The name comes from the “lily white” pale blue-green color of the leaves. These seeds are the result of several cycles of selection from a number of sources of Lilywhite for the most vigorous and drought-resistant plants.
Seakale flourishes in soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline and has consistent moisture. Hardy to Zone 5, it grows well in full sun to part shade, but does not like excessive heat or drought and can temporarily die back during those conditions (similar to rhubarb). Seakale benefits from mulches and plenty of calcium. This halophyte (salt-lover) evolved in a surf-sprayed landscape amongst the rocks above the high tide line and is therefore the perfect perennial vegetable for people growing near the sea — though it thrives far from coasts as well.
Prior to planting, make sure to gently and carefully crack open the corky outer pod to reveal the tender, easily crushed seed inside. Seeds can be freed by chipping away at the corky pod with nail clippers, jewelry pliers, or something similar. (Nate likes to use his front teeth.) Planting the seedpod without this process typically results in very low and erratic germination. Seeds should be planted soon after being freed from their pods. Expect germination over a two month period with some stragglers. Like other perennial vegetables, you will get better results if you have patience and allow the plant to mature before picking any of it. We recommend waiting to harvest until the third year.
The large sprays of small white flowers are a good insectary for a variety of pollinator species in your garden or farm and have great ornamental appeal. These seeds are the result of several cycles of selection by our friend Chris Homanics in Oregon, who started with a number of sources of Lilywhite and bred for the most vigorous and drought resistant plants, making this perhaps the best strain of seakale on the market today.
NOTE: A small portion of seedpods will contain an immature seed or will even be empty, though in order to provide you with the best quality seeds the smallest and lightest pods have been graded out.