What Is Salep: Learn About Salep Orchid Plants
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you are Turkish, you probably know what salep is, but the rest of us likely have no idea. Salep comes from several species of diminishing orchids. Their roots are dug up and prepared to make salep, which is then made into ice cream and a soothing hot beverage. The process kills the plants, making salep orchid roots very costly and rare.
Salep Plant Information
Salep is at the heart of a traditional Turkish beverage. Where does salep come from? It is found in the roots of many orchid species such as:
- Anacamptis pyramidalis
- Dactylorhiza romana
- Dactylorhiza osmanica var. osmanica
- Himantoglossum affine
- Ophrys fusca, Ophrys. holosericea,
- Ophrys mammosa
- Orchis anatolica
- Orchis coriophora
- Orchis italica
- Orchis mascula ssp. pinetorum
- Orchis morio
- Orchis palustris
- Orchis simia
- Orchis spitzelii
- Orchis tridentate
- Serapias vomeracea ssp. orientali
Note: Most of these varieties of salep orchid plants are in jeopardy due to habitat loss and overharvesting.
The wild orchids of Turkey used to bloom across the hill and valleys. They are some of the prettiest and most unique wildflowers. Some of the orchid varieties are preferred for salep because they produce tubers that are round and fat as opposed to elongated, branched roots. The tuber must be cut away and this kills the parent plant.
The insensible harvesting of the plant has led to certain species being banned as a source for salep. Many of the strains of salep that are harvested for use in the country are banned from being sent outside Turkey. Several other regions also harvest orchid roots for their medicinal, thickening, and stabilizing properties.
Salep orchid plants are in bloom in spring. By the end of the summer, the tubers are filled with the starch that creates the salep. Plump, washed tubers are briefly blanched and then skins are removed and the tubers are dried. Some salep plant information offers the suggestion that they are boiled in milk, but this does not seem necessary.
Tubers that are properly dried can store for a long time until use, at which time they are ground. The powder is yellowish and used to thicken certain edibles or as a medicinal. There is a high mucilaginous content as well as sugar.
The common beverage made from the powder is especially appealing to children, but adults enjoy the concoction as well. It is boiled with milk or water and seasoned variously with sassafras root, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and sweetened with honey.
Sometimes, it is mixed with wine to give to people with certain ailments. It is also added to a hardened form of ice cream which is a popular dessert. The powder is also made into a medicine that can ease gastrointestinal distress and enhances the diet of infants and ill persons.
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Cilantro is a fast-growing, aromatic, annual herb that grows best in the cooler weather of spring and fall. Here’s how to grow cilantro (and coriander) in your garden.
This herb is used to flavor many recipes and the entire plant is edible, though the leaves and seeds are used most often.
Cilantro vs. Coriander
Cilantro and coriander are different parts of the same plant.
Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, usually refers to the leaves of the plant, which are used as an herb. This describes the vegetative stage of the plant’s life cycle.
Coriander refers to the seeds, which are typically ground and used as a spice. This happens after the plant flowers and develops seeds.
- Plant cilantro in the spring after the last frost date or in the fall. In the Southwestern US , a fall planting may last through spring until the weather heats up again.
- Do not grow in summer heat as the plants will bolt (such that it will be past harvesting). The leaves that grow on bolted plants tend to be bitter in flavor.
- It is best to choose a sunny site that will allow cilantro to self-seed as it is ought to do. Plant in an herb garden or the corner of a vegetable garden. When the weather gets warm, the plant will quickly finish its life cycle and send up a long stalk which will produce blossoms and later seeds. Little plants will sprout during the season and the next spring.
- Plant the seeds in light, well-drained soil and space them 1 to 2 inches apart. Sow the seeds at 3-week intervals for continued harvest.
- Space rows about 12 inches apart.
- It is important to keep the seeds moist during their germination, so remember to water the plants regularly.
- Water the seedlings regularly throughout the growing season. They require about 1 inch of water per week for best growth.
- Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart so that they have room to develop healthy leaves.
- Once the plants are established, they do not need as much water per week. Keep them moist, but be careful not to overwater them.
- Fertilize once or twice during the growing season with nitrogen fertilizer. Apply ¼ cup of fertilizer per 25 feet of row. Be sure not to over-fertilizer the plants.
- To help prevent weeds, mulch around the plants as soon as they are visible above the soil. You can also till shallowly to help prevent root damage from weeds.
To control for insects, use insecticidal soap once they are spotted under leaves.
Clean up debris and spent plants to avoid wilt and mildew.
A common problem with cilantro is its fast growing cycle. As mentioned above, it will not grow properly in the heat of summer. Grow so that you harvest in spring, fall, or winter (in mild climates).
- Harvest while it is low. When the cilantro grows its stalk, cut off the plant after the seeds drop and let it self-seed.
- The large leaves can be cut individually from the plants. For the smaller leaves, cut them off 1-½ to 2 inches above the crown.
- You can also remove the entire plant at once however, this means that you will not be able to continue harvesting for the rest of the growing season.
- To store coriander seeds, cut off the seed heads when the plant begins to turn brown and put them in a paper bag. Hang the bag until the plant dries and the seeds fall off. You can then store the seeds in sealed containers.
- To store cilantro leaves, you can either freeze or dry them. To freeze, put the leaves in a resealable freezer bag and store them in your freezer. To dry them, hang the plant in a warm place until fully dried, then store the leaves in a resealable bag or container.
- Slow-bolting varieties, such as ‘Costa Rica’, ‘Leisure’, and ‘Long Standing’ are the best choices for harvesting the leaves.
Wit & Wisdom
- Coriander is thought to symbolize hidden worth. Explore more plant meanings here.
- Does cilantro taste like soap? Folks occasionally report a strong dislike for cilantro, claiming it tastes exactly like soap. Some studies show that this reaction may be influenced by genetics, while others propose that the taste is due to a molecule called aldehyde, which occurs naturally in cilantro, but is also used in some soaps. Does cilantro taste like soap to you? Let us know in the comments below!
Salep: The delicious taste comes from wild orchids
Salep or Sahlep, commonly the internal heater winter drink in Turkey. Salep is sold as a ready powder and mixed with cold water or milk, boiled until hardened, and then added with cinnamon for desire.
Salep is obtained from the roots of orchids are rarely found in West Asia and Turkey. The orchid is a shade-loving plant. Generally grows in areas such as forests, maquis, meadows and olive groves. Anatolia north, east, southeast and south Kastamonu, Silifke, Antalya, Mugla, Safranbolu and finally in Kahramanmaras which is famous with ice creams. There are about 150 orchid species in Turkey. 30% of this can be used for Salep production.
The word “Salep” was first used in 1421 by Yadigâr-ı İbni Şerif to describe the “orchid plant and its root”. Evliya Çelebi, in his book Seyahatname, used the word “salep” for “powder derived from the orchid root and the beverage made from it”. However, Ahmet Vefik Pasha gave a piece of interesting information about salep in his book called Lugat-ı Osmani in 1876:
“(…) They say winter days, χusyetüs-saˁleb سعلب, which is fox’s testicles (…) that is a plant looks like a fox’s testicle kind a clove of garlic.”
Indeed, “Salep” in Arabic, “χuṣyatu’ṯ-ṯaˁlab” (خصية الثعلب), that comes from the fox’s testicle. As stated in Nisanyan Glossary, the word orhis in the sense of “testis” in Latin was used to describe the orchid because of the shape of the rhizomes of the orchid plant. In English, “dogstones” are used to describe orchids in the sense of “dog testicle”. In the mouth of Anatolia, the orchid is referred to as a ‘dog testicle’.
In order to produce this powder, the bulbs of the orchid (Orchis, Ophyrus, Serapias, Platanthera, Dectylorhiza) are taken, separated, washed, boiled, left to dry, and finally pulled into small pieces.
The records of this plant have been in use since the 12th and 13th centuries, since the palaces of the doctors used in the medical prescriptions for the Ottoman Sultans. The sultans also liked it because it was thought to have a bitter aphrodisiac effect. Also strengthens the immune system, cough and colds would be good. Today, it is known that the effect of coughing with mucilage in the salep. Mucilage also has the ability to give consistency as it has a high water holding capacity. This feature is also essential in the ice cream industry. The salep used in the famous Maraş ice cream gives the ice cream its adhesive consistency. You can find the delicious salep in our store.
Researchers say they need 1,000-4,000 pieces of bulbs to make a kilogram of sahlep powder. Considering that the production of sahlep is between 30-50 tons to meet the needs of the food, medicine and cosmetics sectors in our country, we can understand that more than 50 million orchids have been destroyed every year. Since the dominant bulb of the orchid is used in the production of sahlep powder, the life of the orchid is also terminated. Thus, the excessive harvest of the wild orchid populations in Turkey came under threat.
Turkey has a Salep Action Plan Eylem, which was launched in 2014 and completed in 2018. Turkey was importing this expensive product until 1996, because endangered orchid species. The orchid cultivation in the garden environment research has been successful, by the Aegean Agricultural Research Institute. In the next stage of the plan, there are studies of these orchids to be trained by farmers. For the first time in Bilecik this year, orchids were produced for industrial purposes. In the province of Yozgat, the orchid was grown in the field began to be planted.
We gathered around a table at the Garden View Café the other day to taste something that only one of us had ever tasted before: powdered orchid roots.
A traditional winter drink in the cafés and restaurants of Turkey, salep is made from the tuberous roots of orchids—specifically, terrestrial orchids in the genus Orchis. Dried and powdered, the resulting flour is combined in a drink mix with other ingredients, much as hot chocolate or chai spices would be: sugar, cornstarch, powdered milk, cinnamon, and vanillin (the main flavor component in vanilla) are added.
A warm cup of salep is perfect on a wintry day.
The instructions are hot-chocolate simple, too: mix 1½ tablespoons of powdered salep into 6 ounces of steamed or boiling milk. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve in small cups.
Our lesson in salep came from the one person who had not only tasted salep before but had grown up drinking it—horticulturist Ayse Pogue, who hails from Istanbul.
Horticulturist Ayse Pogue
Salep is not readily available in America it arrived here courtesy of Ayse’s mother, Figen Ormancioglu, who kindly brought it with her on a recent visit. (The family surname translates as “son of the forester”—Ayse’s love of botany is in her blood.)
What does salep taste like? “Chai,” “junipers,” and “I’ll have another glass,” were three answers the flavor is hard for American taste buds to define. Sweet and savory and spicy all at once, there’s a note of bark or tree in it—Ayse explains that gum arabic, made from the sap of the acacia tree, is also an ingredient, one more familiar to eastern palates than western.
And what is served with salep? “Good conversation,” Ayse says, as is true of all café drink orders. Heading to Istanbul? You’ll spend $4 to $5 on a cup of salep in a city café.
We’ve been talking a lot about edible orchids recently, especially with vanilla as a prominent part of this year’s Orchid Show. While vanilla is, by far, the most well-known food produced from orchids (it’s the bean-like fruit of the vining orchid Vanilla planifolia), other orchids are eaten in different ways around the world.
- Chikanda is a Zambian food made from pounded orchid tubers and thickened to the consistency of jelly, then served in slices.
- Olatshe is a daily dish in Bhutan, where Cymbidium orchids are cooked with spices and cheese.
- Some Dendrobium flowers are edible, and the bamboo-like canes are ingredients in Asian stir-fries and sauces.
- Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, is also made from salep some dondurma is so chewy and elastic that it can be sliced and eaten with a knife and fork.
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Recently Added Questions
What is the botanical name for water chestnut? Will it grow here? Are there other water plants that have edible tubers which will thrive in the Pacific Northwest? What about edible lotus root, from Chinese lotus?
Chinese or Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is hardy in zones 4-10 and is considered invasive in some parts of parts of the midwestern and southeastern U.S. This article in The Guardian by Mark Griffiths, author of The Lotus Quest, suggests growing it in a container in a conservatory or on a sunny deck. However, you may not want to harvest tubers from a lotus grown in a relatively small container, as the plant needs to be large enough to have a substantial system of linear growth in order to sacrifice some of its tubers for human consumption. According to the Colorado Water Garden Society, "Lotus grow in a linear fashion, with a sequence of a tuber producing a leaf and perhaps a flower, then beginning another tuber to repeat the cycle . . . Tuber, leaf, flower, tuber, leaf, flower, etc. Each terminal point produces a single leaf and flower and then sends out the next, new growth. Beneath the soil, lotus growth takes on one of two forms: runners and tubers. The Summer "runner" growth is thin and long (to 24"+)."
American yellow lotus (Nelumbo lutea) also has edible tubers, but it can be an aggressive grower. If you are seeking out plants, be aware that there is sometimes identity confusion among Nelumbo, Nymphaea, Nymphoides, and Nuphar. In King County, there are two common invasive water lilies that are sometimes mistaken for lotuses, Nymphaea odorata and Nymphoides peltata. While some of these water lilies have tubers that have been considered edible in times of famine, they are not a desirable food source.
The common name 'water chestnut' may refer to the edible corms of the Chinese water chestnut familiar from Asian cuisine (Eleocharis dulcis), which is in the sedge family (Cyperaceae), or to European water chestnut (Trapa natans), which is in the loosestrife family (Lythraceae). Eleocharis is not winter-hardy in our area (it requires zones 9-11). Trapa natans is a noxious weed in Oregon and is on the Washington State Noxious Weed quarantine list, so it is not a good choice if you are planning to grow your own aquatic plants. Green Deane's Eat the Weeds webpage describes the differences between these plants.
One commonly grown native plant with edible tubers is Sagittaria latifolia (common arrowhead, wapato, duck potato). It is an attractive ornamental in a water garden. According to Missouri Botanical Garden, the starchy golf-ball sized tubers that develop at the ends of the rhizomes (underground runners) "are edible, and may be boiled or baked and eaten as a potato-like food. Native Americans harvested and consumed these tubers, which in some areas were known as wapato. The tubers are also an important food source for waterfowl, hence the name duck potato." According to Eat the Weeds, only Sagittaria latifolia is of edible interest to humans because the size of the tubers or corms is more significant than in other species. Generally, the larger the leaf size, the larger the edible tuber. In any case, avoid planting the two species of Sagittaria on the Washington State Noxious Weed list: S. platyphylla (quarantine list) and S. graminea (class B).
What's an Amarine and should I grow it? Also, when do you plant the bulbs?
x Amarine is a cross of the South African bulb Nerine and Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies). According to the Pacific Bulb Society, the plants have larger flowers than Nerine. The cross was developed in the Netherlands in 1940, according to this article by Graham Duncan of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in South Africa.
This British commercial gardening site says that x Amarine improves upon Nerine's reluctant and unpredictable blooming habits. x Amarine keeps its foliage while it is blooming. Nerine, on the other hand, produces foliage in the spring and flowers when the foliage dies back in autumn.
In his article on Belles of the Autumn Border, Graham Rice says that × Amarine tubergenii is in between its parents in flower numbers and flower size. For a Pacific Northwest perspective on growing Nerine (and its cousins), you may find Susan Calhoun's article in Fine Gardening useful. As far as when to plant these fall-flowering bulbs in the Northwest, we suggest doing it in May when all danger of frost is long past.
I noticed a Seattle P-Patch garden that was using milfoil from Lake Washington as a mulch in the vegetable beds. That made me wonder about using other aquatic plants as mulch, such as seaweed. Would this be beneficial to the plants? Or would it add salt to the soil and cause problems?
Milfoil (Eurasian watermilfoil, or Myriophyllum spicatum) is a Class B noxious weed in Washington State, and it is on the quarantine list. I am not sure whether moving milfoil dredged from the lake into a garden as mulch violates the quarantine’s prohibition on 'transport of plants,' but presumably it had died back before being spread on the beds. When the plants decay, they do impart nutrients (potentially beneficial to the soil, but a detriment to the lake because they cause algae growth), but Lake Washington is not a pristine body of water, and I would be somewhat concerned about pollutants.
As for using seaweed as mulch in the garden, the book Seaweeds: Edible, Available & Sustainable by Ole Mouritsen (University of Chicago Press, 2013) notes that seaweed has been used as fertilizer for centuries in coastal regions. "In France and on Iceland, this practice goes back at least as far as the 14th century." In Scotland and Ireland particularly, scraps of seaweed that wash ashore have been added to soil to form raised beds for potatoes and other crops. Such beds hold moisture well, but there is a concern about soil salinity (harmful to earthworms and some plants) and pollutants from contaminated water, so it is best to wash the seaweed in rainwater before use. Plants that were originally shore plants, like asparagus, cabbage, and celery are more salt-tolerant.
There is an enlightening discussion on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden forum about using seaweed in the garden. A biologist urges rinsing the seaweed at the beach to free any creatures that might be attached to it. Even desiccated seaweed higher up on the beach harbors living things that will not survive if you unwittingly transport them with the plants you are collecting. Additionally, there may be seeds and roots of other plants you might not want to introduce into your garden.
It Is worth noting that you must have a license to harvest seaweed from Washington beaches it is not permitted everywhere, and where it is allowed there is a ten-pound wet-weight limit. There are specific guidelines on what tools to use, and how to leave behind the base of the plant so it can continue to flourish. Be mindful that seaweed is an integral part of a complex ecosystem, and you do not want to disrupt habitat and food sources when gathering plants to use as mulch. Also heed any notices posted about pollutants that may have been released in the water where you are harvesting.
All of this being said, it does not make much sense to collect seaweed for mulch unless it is 'in your own backyard,' that is to say, you live near the beach. There are more sustainable mulch options (feed a compost pile with materials already in your garden, and use that as mulch obtain free wood chips from a local arborist) that do not come with so many environmental factors to consider.
Where can I get information about garden designers? I am more interested in designers than landscape architects.
Some sources of information and contacts for garden design are
Association of Professional Landscape Designers (look for APLD Chapters and then choose from the list of states/regions)
Edmonds Community College graduates in Horticulture are sometimes featured on the program's Home page when they start businesses. You might also contact the department and see if they have information about garden designers.
Hawthorn fruit is valued in traditional Chinese medicine for digestion, circulation, blood pressure, and anything to do with the heart. What types of hawthorn could I grow here in the Pacific Northwest that share the same medicinal properties as the ones used in China? I found some fruit on a tree in my neighborhood that reminds me of the dried hawthorn fruit we used, but someone told me this was a strawberry tree, not a hawthorn.
Strawberry tree is the common name for Arbutus unedo. Its very bumpy fruit is edible but not especially tasty (the species name means 'I eat one,' because one would be enough to convince the eater to seek a better food source!). Unlike deciduous hawthorns, Arbutus is evergreen. I can imagine, if you have only seen medicinal hawthorn fruit in dried form, it would be easy to mistake it for the strawberry tree’s fruit. Chinese hawthorn fruit has a comparatively smooth surface, though it is dotted with lenticels (that allow for exchange of gases between the outside world and the fruit’s interior).
We are not medical professionals, so we cannot address the medicinal benefits of any plant. However, there are several species of Crataegus (hawthorn) that are native to China, and some of these have fruit considered useful for the medicinal purposes you mention. The species that come up most often are Crataegus pinnatifida (shan zha) and Crataegus hupehensis. In the article "Hawthorn (Crataegus) Resources in China" (Taijun Guo and Peijuan Jiao, HortScience, Vol. 30(6), October 1995), there is a list of all the species that grow in various regions of China. The most useful ones are likely those that have sizeable fruit. There are also quite a few cultivated varieties, especially of C. pinnatifida, C. scabrifolia, and C. hupehensis. There is some history of hawthorn’s medicinal use in Europe as well, but with different species (mainly Crataegus monogyna--an unregulated noxious weed in King County-- and Crataegus laevigata, previously called C. oxyacantha).
If you search online nursery inventory for the Chinese hawthorn species mentioned above, you will see that a cultivar of Crataegus pinnatifida called 'Red Sun' is available from Raintree Nursery in Washington, and One Green World in Oregon. You could certainly try growing it here, provided you have the right space for a 15-foot tree that needs full sun. When the fruits ripen (in the fall here), you could even scoop out the seeds, fill them with red bean paste, skewer them, and dip them in sugar syrup to make tanghulu, a treat for Chinese New Year.