Rock samphire is an attractive, unusual and hardy border plant. The leaves can be eaten raw as a tangy addition to salads, or used in a variety of interesting recipes. Originating on rocky sea cliff faces on the coasts of Britain and Mediterranean countries, and in Europe, North Africa and the Black Sea, it’s also right at home in my Mudgee garden.
Rock Samphire (a member of the carrot family) is rich in vitamin C (historically, seafarers ate it to help prevent scurvy), vitamins E and K, iodine, carotenoids and flavonoids. It’s also full of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids.
This plant has a rich history. Shakespeare mentioned the harvesting of rock samphire (by boys lowered down cliffs on ropes) in King Lear. Also in the 17th century one of the earliest authorities on medicinal and culinary herbs, Nicholas Culpeper, described rock samphire’s fleshy, aromatic leaves as having a “pleasant, hot and spicy taste”. In the 19th century, rock samphire was shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to market in London at the end of May each year.
Eaten raw, rock samphire’s crunchy leaves have a salty, intensely aromatic carrot/parsley flavour. They’re also good steamed and lightly tossed in butter. Use the leaves early in the season when they’re tender (generally from October-December in the southern hemisphere).
Rock Samphire’s stems, leaves and seed pods may be pickled in hot, salted, spiced vinegar, or the leaves used fresh in salads. Pickled in extra virgin olive oil it’s a traditional food of the le Marche region of Italy, where it’s known as Paccasassi del Conero. There it’s used as an antipasto, to accompany fish and meat dishes and to garnish pizza and sandwiches.
Pureed and blended through mayonnaise it can be used as a dipping sauce for fritto misto (mixed seafood). The oil on its own can be used to spice up bruschetta and salads.
In late summer and right through autumn, as the flowers and seed heads develop and slowly change colour from creamy white to lime green to pinkish mauve, this plant forms an attractive and interesting border to my flower garden.
It’s a perennial, and the seeds can be easily harvested in autumn for further sowing.
Rock samphire grows to about 50cm in height. Mine is growing in full sun. It’s also known as “sea fennel”.
For Diggers Seeds members, here are some delicious rock samphire recipes.