Thursday, 20 November 2014

Edible wild plants found by the sea – Rock Samphire

Rock Samphire growing at Swanbridge, South Wales. Photo by Steve Andrews

The rock samphire, samphire or sea fennel is a commonly found edible plant that grows in rocks at the top of beaches, growing amongst the shingle and on cliffs. It is found in the UK and along coasts of parts of Europe and the Mediterranean area, as well as on the Canary Islands.

Known to botanists as Crithmum maritimum, the rock samphire is in the Apiaceae or parsley family. It has succulent divided leaves and umbels of greenish-yellow flowers.  It is aromatic if bruised and has quite a strong smell and taste. The herbalist Nicholas Culpeper described rock samphire as having a “pleasant, hot and spicy taste.”

Richard Mabey gives some recipes for rock samphire in his classic book for foragers entitled Food For Free.  This book has proved so popular that it has been republished over and over and is now in its fortieth year. 

Rock Samphire in Portugal Photo by Steve Andrews

Rock samphire can be found all year round and can be eaten sparingly raw in salads, pickled in vinegar or cooked as a green vegetable. It was once so popular that it was mentioned by Shakespeare who describing the dangerous practice of gathering it from high on cliffs, wrote, "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!”  It was collected too in the Isle of Wight and shipped to London in vats of seawater to keep it fresh.

These days it is illegal to remove plants of samphire from their natural habitat.  Nevertheless the rock samphire is an interesting edible plant to look out for when walking by the sea.

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