With World Oceans Day today, we thought we'd hand Feature Plant Friday over to a plant that is delicious to eat and dwells in the ocean.
From Shakespeare to trendy restaurants, the popularity of samphires, a family of salt-loving succulents, has risen and fallen over thousands of years, due to scarcity or just simply becoming forgotten about. Named after Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, because of their ability to grow in rocky, salty environments along the coasts and in coastal marshes, these hearty plants were also used in soap and glass-making in medieval England?
With the majority of species that are used in cooking found in coastal areas of northern Europe, Eurasia, and the UK, other species are also found across Africa, tropical coasts of the Indian Ocean, and southeastern North America, and there are even species that are native solely to Australia.
Faiths and Cultures:
Samphires have been a part of British culture for centuries, and grow abundantly along the English coasts and in coastal marshes. Before receiving a mention in Shakespeare's King Lear, samphires were one of the plants included in John Evelyn’s Acetaria, the first English salad book that promoted the consumption of vegetables during the Restoration period. A time when vegetables were distrusted and diets mostly comprised of bread, or meat for the wealthy. However, the use of samphire declined after the 19th century due to scarcity, and has only recently seen an increase in use.
Due to its popularity in Britain, samphires have even been incorporated into names of businesses, restaurants, and not-for-profits such as UK-based Samphire. Working both nationally and locally in Dover to assist and advise ex-detainees, including migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, Samphire also runs community engagement projects to raise awareness of issues surrounding ex-detainees while improving social cohesion.
While primarily used in cooking, samphire has several useful properties that have made it a great medicinal plant. The use of samphire leaves to relieve indigestion and prevent against jaundice was encouraged during the Restoration period, and the leaves were boiled and drunk. Pickled samphire was also used to treat scurvy due to the high content of vitamin C in the leaves.
Not only rich in vitamin C, samphire is also a good source of vitamin A, calcium, iron, and antioxidants such as carotenoids. Samphire has been pickled for centuries, with recipes dating as far back as 1597!
While likened to asparagus due to the crunchy texture of the shoots, samphires are very salty, which can be reduced by blanching the shoots for less than a minute or soaking them for 1-2 hours then putting them into ice water, helping them retain their bright green colour.
Besides pickling, different parts of samphires are used in a wide variety of recipes. The shoots can be used in salads, such as Turkish Deniz Börülcesi, pies, as an accompaniment to fish, and sauteed with garlic and onion, and taste best when the shoots are young and bright green. The flowers can also be fried or used to make frittatas, while the seeds can be used to make bread.
If you’re interested in trying samphire out at home, you can explore the recipes below:
Samphire Recipes, The Guradian
Spanish Rice & Samphire, Hello Fresh
Turkish Salad - Deniz Börülcesi, Peter Sommer
Samphires are perennial succulents that can grow to be as wide as they are tall, and change colour from bright green in summer to red/pink in winter. Able to form a groundcover when grown in large numbers, they can attract lizards and small birds to your garden which they can shelter under.
As halophytes (plants that grow in soil with high salt concentrations), samphires grow best in saline environments, such as beaches, marshes, and salt flats. They can also be grown at home just by watering it with a mixture of a teaspoon of sea salt in about 500 mL of water, and placing them in mid to full sun and in sandy, well-drained soil.
Being succulents, samphires can survive in a wide range of conditions but are prone to frost-damage during winter. To avoid this, you can blanket the plants with insulating material, such as hessian, geofabric, or even an old shirt! You can also cover the surrounding area with mulch during the night, which the frost then settles on, and remove it during the day to expose the soil to sunlight and warmth.
Happy growing and eating!