Tag Archives: edible wild plants

Two more samphires

Whilst epicureans seek out marsh samphire on the muddy foreshores, two other samphires are flowering on the rocks at Llanddwyn.

Golden samphire (Inula crithmoides) is particularly pretty. It has bright yellow daisy-like flowers and fleshy leaves with an aromatic, citrusy scent. Golden samphire is quite scarce in the UK, so we’re lucky to have it here.

Golden samphire (Inula crithmoides).

Golden samphire (Inula crithmoides).

Golden samphire flowers

Golden samphire flowers

Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) also has succulent, citrusy scented leaves, but its flowers are tiny, forming a dense umbel head with a yellowish hue.

Rock samphire is sometimes known as sea fennel and in the past it was commonly eaten: either boiled as a vegetable, or preserved as an aromatic pickle. Golden samphire was sometimes pickled too, but was considered inferior to rock samphire.

Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) scrambling over the cliffs of Llanddwyn.

Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) scrambling over the cliffs of Llanddwyn.

The tiny little flowers of rock samphire.

The tiny little flowers of rock samphire.

None of these samphires are related to each other: the name samphire just relates to the fact that they were considered to be herbs of St Peter (Saint Pierre) because they grew by the sea. St Pierre became corrupted to samphire.

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Marsh samphire – poor man’s asparagus

On the siltier (not the sandy) beaches around Anglesey you’ll often find marsh samphire growing. It’s known by many names, including ‘poor man’s asparagus’, but it doesn’t taste much like asparagus!

One day, there will be no signs of the plants. But then all of a sudden they will start to appear: usually around the end of May or early June. Once they’ve emerged, they grow very quickly, soon resembling a miniature forest if you’re down at their level or a carpet of grass from above.

This mudflat will soon be covered by marsh samphire - this photo was taken on 7th June

This mudflat will soon be covered by marsh samphire – this photo was taken on 7th June

...the little tiny shoots were just beginning to appear

…the little tiny shoots were just beginning to appear

This is the same spot 12 days later.

This is the same spot 12 days later. Hundreds of plants are now quickly growing.

Marsh samphire is edible, and it’s not unpleasant. The youngest shoots can be eaten raw. They’re crunchy, juicy, salty and taste fresh and ‘green’. As the stems mature, they’re usually steamed or briefly boiled before being tossed in butter to serve.

When the plants are older still and they’ve become a little tough, some people pull the cooked plants through their teeth to extract the inner flesh, leaving the skins behind.

Marsh samphire’s botanical name is usually given as Salicornia europaea.

Laverbread

Laverbread is nothing at all like bread. It is stewed seaweed. It looks a little bit like cooked spinach: green and a bit sloppy and slippy… It may not sound appetising, but it is supposed to be very good for you.

When the tide is very low at Newborough, you can find the seaweed that laverbread is made from clinging to the rocks low down the beach.

Laver seaweed covering the rocks at low tide, Newborough

Laver seaweed covering the rocks at low tide, Newborough

The latin name for the seaweed is Porphyra umbilicalis. It is very thin and without any obvious shape to it. When it is in the water it floats like a thin sheet of film. When the tide leaves it above the waterline it drapes the rocks in shiny sheets.

Laver seaweed - Porphyra umbilicalis

Laver seaweed – Porphyra umbilicalis

Laver seaweed floating in rock pool

Laver seaweed floating in rock pool

If you would like to try making laverbread, you first have to wash the seaweed in several changes of water to remove any sand and nasties. Then boil it for hours. As many hours as you like really! Just until it becomes a deliquesced mush. Then squeeze it out as much as possible, season to taste, coat in oatmeal and fry.

If you don’t fancy spending several hours boiling seaweed, you can buy ready made laverbread in tins at some shops and delicatessens.

Alexanders

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) grow abundantly around much of Anglesey. They are one of the earliest plants to sprout up in the spring, providing a vibrant green to the roadside verges along the coast as early as late January or February. At that time of year, you are probably unlikely to mistake them for anything else. However, as the year moves on and the other umbellifers come out, take care not to confuse them with nastier (for your health) things like hog weed or hemlock water dropwort.

Alexanders coming into flower

Alexanders coming into flower (usually the plant would be much taller than this at flowering, but this is in an area of the forest that was harvested this winter and the emerging plants were razed to the ground – so it’s panicking a bit and flowering even though it is so short.)

All parts of Alexanders can be eaten – the roots and stems can be boiled or steamed and eaten as a vegetable, and the leaves can be used as a herb. All parts have a celery-ish flavour to them. And indeed it is celery that displaced Alexanders from kitchens and kitchen gardens.

Alexanders with rust (a fungal infection that is very common)

Alexanders with rust (a fungal infection that is very common)

Sporadically, academics take an interest in Alexanders – like most plants with such a long history of cultivation and use, it undoubtedly has many properties of benefit to humans, but the question is always whether it is economic to exploit those properties. So far, the answer seems to be no.

Alexanders in amongst hawthorn

Alexanders in amongst hawthorn

The scientific name for Alexanders is Smyrnium olusatrum. Smyrnium coming from the Greek for myrrh, and olusatrum meaning black vegetable, because the roots are very dark. In Welsh, Alexanders are sometimes called Dulys. I’ve no idea of the etymology of that, but perhaps it too refers to the dark colour (du – black and maybe lys from llysiau – veg).