ROCK SAMPHIRE - ONCE HIGHLY PRIZED FOOD:HEALTH BENEFITS AND HOW TO COOK ROCK SAMPHIRE
ROCK SAMPHIRE, CRITHMUM MARITIMUM
Rock samphire is the only plant in its genus, Crithmum, just as the Wood Apple is in its. However, rock samphire belongs to the Umbelliferae or Apiceae family of plants which includes fennel, carrots and lovage. It is native to coastal
Europe including the British Isles and southern parts of as well as the Ireland Mediterranean and the Black Sea coasts.
The Celts of France,
and Wales ate this plant and it was popular in 16th century Cornwall as a pickle mainly. In the 19th century it was the victim of over-harvesting and so fell out of use in the Britain . As its name suggests it grows in rocky places where it can be touched by the salty sea spray and it is now making a comeback both in terms of its abundance and popularity. In UK it is a protected species so you are not actually supposed to harvest it from the wild. Britain
In the past it was harvested in the
Isle of Wight off the south coast of and transported to Britain to be sold in the street markets in casks of salt water. The street cry for this herb was “Crest Marine.” It is mentioned in Samuel Pepys diary and Shakespeare clearly saw it being harvested on his journey to London , where one of the famous White Cliffs in the region is named after him: Shakespeare Cliff. At the time a rope was tied to a child’s ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks. Shakespeare gives Edgar in “King Lear” (Act IV scene VI) these lines: - Dover
“There is a cliff whose high and bending head looks fearfully in the confined
deep.......The crows and choughs that wing the midway air scarce so gross as beetles;
halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!”
Today samphire grows again near the White Cliffs of Dover on reclaimed land, which was formed after the building of the Channel Tunnel, it is aptly called Samphire Hoe (a Hoe is a promontory, or piece of land that juts out into the sea).
The seed pods which can be found from August to October can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. Rock samphire flowers from June to August, but the young leaves are best for cooking and should be gathered in May. These can be sprinkled with salt, after they have been removed from the stems, boiled and then put in a jar and covered with spices and vinegar. They are best cooked simply as you would asparagus as in the recipe below.
William Coles (1626-1662) writes that “there is such great plenty [of rock samphire] that it is gathered (yet not without danger) for some have fallen down and broken their necks…” He goes on to say that rock samphire is good for digestion and the “breaking of the stone and voiding of Gravell in the Reines [kidneys] and Bladder.” John Gerard writing in the 16th century and Coles’ contemporary Nicolas Culpeper agree with this use of rock samphire. However Culpeper writes (50 years after Gerard) that it had gone out of fashion in his day and deplores this, describing it as “very pleasant to taste and stomach.”
It got the name samphire from a corruption of Saint Pierre (French), the patron saint of fishermen (Saint Peter) and this is reflected in its Italian name, Herba di San Pietro (Herb of Saint Peter) or Sanpetra. It is also called Sea Fennel (Meerfenchal in German), Sea asparagus, Sea bean (It resembles a green bean when cooked) and Sea pickle.
It reduces flatulence, purifies the blood and removes toxins from the body. In fact rock samphire has similar properties to karella and has a similar, but not quite as strong, bitter flavour. It is currently thought that it may be good for a weight loss diet and obesity, just as chong (Caralluma fimbriata) is and the taste of rock samphire is a little reminiscent of this plant too.
This simple recipe is very good but if you wish you can serve it with melted butter instead of olive oil. It goes well with meat and fish, especially sea bream and bass.
BOILED ROCK SAMPHIRE
½ kilo rock samphire use leaves only
freshly ground black pepper
Clean the samphire, and strip the leaves from the stems. Discard any flowers. There is no need to add salt.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, throw in the samphire and cook for about 7 minutes at simmering point.
Drain and serve with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice and black pepper.
This has Taste and is a Treat.