Crystalline ice plant, or ficoïde glaciale in French and Eiskraut/Kristallkraut in German, is a South African succulent plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) and is popular in France and Spain and very trendy in New York restaurants. While it grows wild and has spread around the world, the only place you can score some around here is from my garden.
I first saw ice plant on a John Kohler You Tube video. It was one of several strange greens he was growing in his front yard garden (tyfon was another and I also have seeds for that). Pinetree has the seeds so I decided to plant a small patch of the stuff this year just to see what it is like. Ice plant is in the Aizoaceae family and is actually related to tetragon or New Zealand spinach.
The heart-shaped leaves are broad and light green colored in the Spring and covered with crystalline bumps used to store water. The plant is salt tolerant, often growing on the coast and on sand dunes. The leaves are edible and the taste is very subtle. It has a briny, slightly salty taste. Since it is a succulent, when you eat it, it sort of melts in your mouth, releasing the briny juices. Chefs often pair it with seafood for that reason.
I have yet to experience it, but in summer the foliage changes form to smaller grey leaves with pink flower buds and white aster-like flowers. The buds are edible and attractive and are prized by chefs. The flowers are attractive and you can see a picture of them in the Baker Creek catalog. They describe them as looking like sea anemones, and they do.
In climates without frost, the plants can become invasive. There is another ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), another succulent from South Africa, that was used for ground cover and is now an invasive species causing a lot of trouble in California. That plant is also called Hottentot fig, highway ice plant, pigface and sour fig. It produces a tart fruit that is used to make jam. I am not sure if the two plants are related.
So far I have only had a few leaves to add to a salad, where it does not stand out. The plants are now large enough to produce enough leaves for a more substantial dish, but I am not sure what I will do with them. While this is certainly an intriguing and attractive plant, I surely will not plant it again. The little taste and texture it has is just not worth the space in my small garden.