Foraging for Marsh Samphire: Identification and Edibility

Marsh Samphire – Salicornia europaea
(In Irish: Lus na Gloine)

Wild food is plentiful along the Irish coast (especially the West) and today we’re looking at another delicious plant you can snap up.

You can find all my foraging posts here.

Marsh Samphire

Juicy and delicious, marsh samphire grows plentiful along the west Irish coasts though it can be found in the east as well. There are a few types of samphire, Crithmum maritimum (Rock) and Salicornia europaea (Marsh).

Marsh Samphire has other names such as glasswort or sea asparagus and rock samphire is also called sea fennel and Crest Marine.

Rock Samphire – You can read all about it here.

What does it look like?

These succulent plants are relatively small with jointed, bright green stems. They almost look fingerlike! They produce fleshy fruits that contain a single seed and their leaves are small and scale-like.

It develops a woody sort of stem as it ages so best to harvest when all bright and green.

Where to find Marsh Samphire?

Both Rock Samphire and Marsh Samphire are halophytes meaning they are salt-loving plants. Therefore estuaries are a great bet where the salt marsh guards the shoreline.

Marsh Samphire – Salicornia europaea
(In Irish: Lus na Gloine)

How and when to harvest Marsh Samphire

Did you know that tradition dictates that it shouldn’t be harvested before the Summer Solstice?

That being said, thankfully this delicious plant is edible throughout the growing cycle. However, in my opinion, it tastes wonderful between June and August because that’s when it is at its juiciest. Understandably this can seem off-putting as it is quite a short growing season but honestly, it’s well worth foraging for.

To forage, you’ll need a bucket or mesh bag and scissors.

Unfortunately, because this plant is low to the ground, you will have to bend down a lot to forage it, so expect some creaky moaning after a while! I promise you it’s very tasty and worth it. Wearing wellies is also a great shout while you’re doing this as it can be a bit gloopy and muddy around the samphire.

To pick, have your scissors at the ready and give the samphire a trim. You want to cut the succulent top just a few inches above the stems.

Before you put it away consider giving it a rinse with some clean sea water.

A word of caution!

The mud can be deep and quick tides can make estuaries dangerous, so consider foraging for samphire in groups. Foraging with friends is a lot of fun anyway!

What does wild marsh samphire taste like?

It tastes salty and refreshing.

How to eat marsh samphire

You can simply eat this plant as is. The younger stems are the perfect crunchy addition to fresh salads or you can steam it and add it as a side dish. It pairs with fish very well. You can use the older parts of the samphire too that have developed a woody core, though to eat them you must drag them between your teeth to remove the flesh.

Recipe: Buttered samphire with garlic and lemon

This is a great side dish with sea bass, cod, hake or any white fish.

Ingredients:

  • 100g marsh samphire
  • 50g butter
  • At least 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • Freshly ground pepper (optional)

Method:

  1. Trim off any tough ends of the samphire.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop the samphire into it. The samphire itself should be salty enough so no need to add extra salt.
  3. Drop the pan to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes or until tender.
  4. Drain well and add the butter while the samphire is hot so that it can melt.
  5. Freshly grind pepper over it if you so wish!

Marsh Samphire benefits

  • Rich in vitamins A, C, B2, and D
  • High levels of Iodine, iron, calcium, magnesium, silica, zinc and manganese
  • Rich in fibre and amino acids

According to a 2016 review, “Medicinal attributes like immunomodulatory, lipid-lowering, antiproliferative, osteoprotective, and hypoglycemic render this lesser-known marsh plant significant for phytochemical studies.”

Other uses for marsh samphire

I mentioned that an alternative name for this plant is ‘glasswort’, and there’s a reason behind that! Since this plant is high in sodium carbonate (also known as soda ash), in ancient times it was broken down to be used in the glass industry.

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, you can submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.

As always, be mindful when foraging and do not forage any plant you’re not 100% certain you can identify.

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