Pickleweed (Batis maritima), also called ʻākulikuli kai in Hawai’i, is a succulent creeping shrub within the Bataceae family. It is native to tropical and subtropical America as well as the Galapagos Islands, and is commonly known as saltwort or pickleweed. B. maritima was accidentally introduced, and first collected on Sand Island in Hawai’i in 1859. It is now widespread and a known invasive, likely displacing native communities such as Sesuvium portulacastrum. It appears that only in Hawai’i has B. maritima been reported as naturalized and is commonly found along coastal areas in brackish ponds, fish ponds, marshes and on saline soils on all the main Hawaiian islands.
Batis maritima is not widely used in Hawai’i, but there is documented use of the foliage as a common animal and human food source. The seeds and leaves were used as an additive to salads by Native Americans, and the stems were used as a sweetening agent before the introduction of processed sugar, being chewed similarly to sugar cane. The seeds may also be toasted and popped like popcorn, which I have not figured out how to do yet, but is interesting since they are found to be highly nutritious in protein and unsaturated fats. The oil from the seed has also used in making salad dressings and margarine.
In addition to food, B. maritima has other uses. It has historically been used in remedies for the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Its use as herbal medicine has been documented in Puerto Rico for the treatment of skin and blood disorders such as gout, eczema, psoriasis, rheumatism, and blood and thyroid issues. Its use has also been documented in Mexico for the treatment of cutaneous fungal infections in the Yucatan peninsula.
The presence of biologically active compounds referred to as ‘phytochemicals’ or ‘functional ingredients’ correlates with the documented use of this plant in traditional medicine, since these phytochemicals have been observed to be effective in the treatment of conditions noted above. These compounds play an important role in human health and display potent antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory activities. The phytochemicals detected in this study were glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, sterols, tannins and terpenoids.
Hawai’i’s native succulent creeping shrub, Sesuvium portulacastrum, looks very similar to B. maritima and is known as ʻākulikuli. It is a member of the Aizoaceae family and also has a long history used as traditional medicine by indigenous peoples of Africa, Latin America and in Asian countries such as India, China, Pakistan and Japan. Its use as remedy for various infections, kidney disorders, fever and scurvy are noted. Both B. maritima and S. portulacastrum are halophyte species that live in extreme environments and have to deal with frequent changes in salinity and drought levels. In order to tolerate these kinds of stressors, the plants develop adaptive responses through metabolic processes which synthesize new bioactive compounds such as phytochemicals. For this reason, several salt marsh plants have traditionally been used for medicinal and nutritional purposes.
In addition to this study, Glucosinolates have been isolated from B. maritima. Pharmacological studies have shown that glucosinolates have supplemental health promoting and beneficial properties as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, cholinesterase inhibitors and as cancer preventative agents in humans. In addition, these compounds are used in food preservation, due to their microbial inhibitory ability and as biocides/biofumigants in agriculture.
Research shows B. maritima is a potentially valuable halophyte in the evolution of pharmacological studies, that their volatile compounds have significance due to demand in the food, perfumery, cosmetics and winery industries.
From Lisa Ganora’s work on glucosinolates, “Glucosinolates are “ascending pungent” constituents, important sulfur-containing phytochemicals that support the detoxification enzymes in the liver (they’re selective phase II inducers). They also help with hormone balancing by encouraging the production of benign estrogen metabolites as opposed to potentially carcinogenic ones. Evidence also indicates that they are supportive and protective for the entire cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, and glucose metabolism.”