Monk's beard, also called agretti or Barba di Frate, Beard of the Friar, refers to the leaves of the plant Salsola soda, which are eaten as a leafy green vegetable, especially in places like Tuscany. The plant is native to Europe, The season for purchasing monk's beard for cooking is very short — about five weeks long in early spring when the leaves are most tender and fresh. Its rarity in culinary use outside of Italy has made this a popular vegetable, showing up in more and more of the finer restaurants throughout Europe, US and Hong Kong when it is in season.
The name monk's beard comes from the history of harvesting the plant. This relative to chicory is thought to have been cultivated by the Cappuccino Monks or Capuchin Monks in Tuscany. There are basically two methods of serving the green, which has been compared in taste to chard, spinach, and a variety of other fresh tangy greens. Monk's beard is often either steamed or boiled, and it may receive a light dressing of olive oil and/or a little lemon juice. Alternately the cooked greens can be added to pasta, or to fish dishes where the slightly bitter taste tends to complement the fish well.