Foraging for Rock Samphire: an edible coastal wild food

Wild Rock Samphire – Crithmum maritimum
(In Irish: Craobhraic)

Not all food has to have a price tag. Some of the tastiest treats out there can be foraged for free!

I have a fascination with survival and dystopian futures. I often wonder if I would be able to survive in the wild if things started to ever go haywire.

Here at SpilltheBeans, I aim to capture those thoughts while also educating people about wild edible food. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way and today we’re talking about Rock Samphire.

Rock Samphire

Great for those who simply want to grab and snack on the go while visiting the seashore. Rock samphire can be found in abundance in coastal areas, particularly on rocks by the sea. Its season lasts from May until around September.

Flowering Period

When foraging in Ireland you will find that there are two samphires, marsh and rock. Marsh samphire is more abundant and easier to find. It resembles asparagus and grows in easier-to-access areas such as muddy or sandy flats and tidal creeks.

What does it look like?

This is a native plant. Samphire is a perennial and can be identified by its green fleshy stems and wide yellowish-green flowers. Each umbel can have up to 30 rays and many bracts. The fleshy leaves have pinnate or bipinnate lobes and this hairless plant can withstand its coastal habitat and harsh sea winds. It belongs to the family Apiaceae.

A Cautious Rock Samphire Warning

Though it is not easily confused with other wild plants, as mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear, it appears that gathering wild samphire has never been easy and one must take care.


Come on, sir; here’s the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!

Edgar – King Lear


It might be a good idea to take heed of this Elizabethan rock samphire warning when climbing rocks to reach it.

What does wild rock samphire taste like?

Knowing people in times gone by have risked their lives for a sprig of rock samphire makes people wonder: “What does wild rock samphire taste like? It must taste sublime”. The answer is: it depends.

It’s true that to some samphire is simply exquisite and utterly delicious, while to others it tastes like kerosene!

This wild food’s succulent stems have a unique salty taste that can be likened to a fusion between parsley and aromatic carrots.

Rock Samphire embedded into a grey rock face.
Picture of Rock Samphire up close taken by Sarah Smith

How to eat rock samphire

You are probably wondering how to eat rock samphire. It’s easy! You can cook it in stir-fries, steam it or add it to a simple salad.

The leaves, flowers and seeds are edible and its green body is rich in aromatic oils. Even though there are people who find it particularly pungent, I think that’s what makes it unique.

There are mouth-watering rock samphire recipes for pickling that you should definitely try.

Recipe: Easy Pickled Rock Samphire

There are many different ingredients and ways to pickle your samphire. I find often the ingredients truly depend on your taste. Thankfully though, getting started is easy and there aren’t many ingredients required for making this particular samphire pickle!

Ingredients:

  • 100g samphire (no flowers)
  • 1 clove garlic (finely sliced)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 350ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds

You will also need one sterilised jar. To sterilise a jar, preheat an oven to 160ºC. Wash your jar and the lid in hot soapy water. Afterwards, DO NOT dry them. Instead, stand the jar upside down on a roasting tray while they’re still wet and pop it into the pre-heated oven for about 15 mins.

Method:

  • Rinse the samphire under cold water and then dry on kitchen paper (or a clean tea towel).
  • Place the samphire into a sterilised jar and add the bay leaf as well as the finely sliced garlic.
  • In a small pan gently heat the apple cider vinegar, sugar and all spices until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Slowly raise the heat to boil for 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and pour the hot pickling liquid over the samphire in the jar. Pop on the lid.
  • You want to leave the jar to mature in a cool dark place for at least a month.

Rock samphire benefits

Rock samphire benefits range from reducing flatulence, purifying the blood and removing toxins from the body. It’s said that this wonderous plant was a life saviour to sailors and fishermen due to its high vitamin C content (30 times more than an orange) it could keep scurvy at bay.

Interestingly the name ‘Samphire’ comes from the French name ‘Herbe de Saint Pierre’ Saint Pierre (or Peter) was the patron saint of fishermen. Its scientific name, as mentioned, is Crithmum maritimum.

For those who have the time and enjoy foraging in Ireland, it’s well worth taking a bag of this unique herb home to pickle. Just make sure you take care when climbing.

When eating your pickled rock samphire at home, on a slice of wholemeal bread, you will be transported back to the wild windy seaside cliffs by the distinctive salty flavours.

As always, be mindful to take only what you need. Leave plenty for others and enough so that the plant can grow back to abundance. When it comes to foraging, sustainable harvesting is key.

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

Happy foraging!


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

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