Foraging for Samphire on the British Coast

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June, July and August are the months to forage for marsh samphire, not to be mistaken for rock samphire, which grows on rocks on land and tastes completely different, I am told. Marsh samphire can be found in abundance in salt marshes and tidal mud flats on the British coast. You may have also come across it by one of it’s other names:  glasswort (its name of old alluding to a time when it was used in making glass and soap); sea asparagus; Saint Peter’s herb (the Patron Saint of Fisherman) or it’s rather grand sounding Latin name ‘salicornia europaea’. I particularly like its less well known name of ‘Mermaid’s kiss’.

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A few years back marsh samphire was not so easy to source in the shops, other than the fishmonger who would grace their fish displays with the vegetable from time to time. Recently I have seen it in the larger supermarkets in the UK being sold in packets on their fish counters. It’s relatively expensive for the amount you get, so if you happen to be on the British coast in the summer, it is well worth having a forage for the vegetable.

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I’ve been spending the last week or so on the borders of Suffolk and Essex, which is perfect hunting ground. I initially came across some growing on the mudflats on Mersea Island and immediately gathered a small amount to prepare for when I returned home. The following day we were passing by the picturesque and historical village of Orford in Suffolk – well worth a detour on many levels – Richardson’s smokehouse, the great Pump Street Bakery, some fine pubs, a small castle, a grade I listed church with Norman remains and a sailing club – all civilised places have a sailing club don’t you find? I had read that Orford was the perfect place to forage for marsh samphire, so bucket and scissors in hand Big A, Mr B and I went a foraging.

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It was not long before we spotted the easily identifiable marsh samphire sprouting up through the tidal mudflats. They almost look like miniature cacti, without any spines or sharp bits. When foraging though you need to be very careful not to pull out the whole plant as it will prevent it from growing further. Simply pinch off the top parts or use a pair of scissors, so that the fibrous stems and roots remain intact. You will find that the the samphire needs to be thoroughly washed a couple of times so that the mud, grit and general nasties are disposed of.

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Whilst it can be eaten raw, I like to cook samphire – boil or steam for a couple of minutes, and then eat with a dollop of melting butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Absolutely no salt is needed as they taste of the sea so are more than sufficiently salty. They are rich in Vitamins A, C and D and taste  similar to asparagus, albeit more salty!

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They are also a perfect accompaniment for fresh fish and also lamb, although I rather like the way that this blogger has prepared their samphire – see here – Poached Eggs with Samphire and Honey Harissa. How good does that sound?

Are you able to forage samphire near you? Does it grown in your country? How do you eat it? I would love to know so write a comment below for us all to see.

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Fresh Marsh Samphire with Butter and Lemon

A handful of fresh marsh samphire per person

 knob of butter

lemon wedges

1. Trim and wash the marsh samphire a couple of times so that all the mud, grit and stray seaweed is discarded.

2. Boil a large pan of water and place the samphire directly in the water (if steaming put into the steamer). Boil gently for 3 minutes and drain immediately.

3. Plate up and add a knob of butter to each serving and a lemon wedge on the side. Equally you can pre-melt the butter and pour it over the samphire. Both ways work equally well.

Eat immediately when it is hot and enjoy.

Remember no salt is needed. 

31 thoughts on “Foraging for Samphire on the British Coast

  1. Charlotte

    yes! We have an abundance i on the Adur river, Shoreham by Sea and went out only yesterday for our lunch! Thank you, lovely pictures and yes leave the root in the ground!

    • That sounds great. There is something rather wonderful about foraging for your own lunch. Do you have them with a little butter and lemon or something else? thanks for commenting. Torie

  2. Dave Hutton

    It grows in abundance here on the Welsh Dee estuary.. My wife gathers enough during the summer to keep us using it as a main veg throughout the year. After cooking it is placed in sealed bags[vacum packed even better]and frozen.
    When young in the early summer it can be eaten raw, as it grows bigger it developes a woody stalk inside, no problem as this stalk is easily removed when cooked.
    Marsh samphire is one of the first plants to colonise mud flats, it should be cut, never pulled up by the roots. The roots have a binding effect in the mud and thus allows other plants to take hold, eventually this leads to a new habitat that eventually takes over to the detriment of the sampire. No worries though as the samphire just colonises the mud a bit further out.

    • Thanks Dave for your really interesting comment. I enjoyed reading it and certainly take note when it comes to freezing it – good idea. It is always so expensive in the shops to buy so I rather love foraging for it when I can. Yes absolutely cut not pull. Very important detail. Best Torie

  3. I collected some saturday gone. Blanched it then tossed it in butter served with sea kale and mussels that I also picked the same day. A little garlic too. Totally free meal cooked by the beach. Truly delicious

  4. Dave Hutton

    while scissors are OK for cutting samphire, the old fashioned snips like they used for sheep shearing are superb. Snips can be had from ALDI at times and you never get blisters using them.

  5. ginny
    did you know many yrs ago it was used not as a veg but to make glass and,,,,,,,,, soap, its was know as mainens kiss,
    found this info on google
    ginny

  6. Ian peacock

    Had it 30years ago from a colleague at work it was in vinegar in a jam jar what a taste when you put it in your mouth and pulled it out you were left with a hard stem which you would discard must try to locate some down by southport

  7. I live on the Adur river at Shoreham by Sea, loads of samphire about in season, however I’ve always wondered how safe it is to eat as the river has a lot of farm wash off, not to mention sewerage overflow in storms and heavy rain. Anyone know if it adorbs any nasties?

    • Hi there, I am originally from West Sussex so am familiar with the area you are talking about. I have just had a search on the web and the general feeling is that any fish or shell fish coming from the Adur river is avoided for the reasons you mention about. Some people mention eating the samphire there – after a good wash of course – but I would try and talk to a few other locals/fisherman and get their view on it. It’s a tough call but if it is heavily polluted it might be worth giving it a wide berth. All the best Torie

  8. I wouldn’t worry too much about sewage, they have to comply with strict regulation these days, it’s a plant and we use cow or horse manure in our gardens. It’s washed by the sea, washed well before cooking, and again after cooking to get rid
    of some of the salt. There is a sewage treatment plant a few hundred yards away from where we gather samphire, never a single problem in all these years

    • Thank you for the input on samphire gathering. Very helpful indeed and for other readers of my blog. Am heading up to Mersea Island soon so am hoping I may spot some there. Wild garlic season has also started. So much lovely foraging to do. Best Torie

  9. Susie Davies-Lowe

    What on a kayaking trip last July found some growing in a mud bank – picked only what I needed and used it in a salad that evening – delicious – going to forage for some tomorrow

  10. CHRIS

    please can someone tell me where and what area exactly would i find sanphire. i am partialy disabled and maybe having difficulty getting to it .. i am in wigan and willing to travell allmost anywere it would be helpfull if someone could go into detail regarding the sanphire or cockles.. please any help at all would be apreciated,, thank you ………….Chris.

    • Hi Chris, Samphire tends to grow in estuary mud flats near the waters edge. It’s often not the easiest to get to. If my photos are not clear do take a look at other examples of samphire by typing it into google. Waitrose also sells it but it’s quite costly hence I prefer to occasionally forage for it if I am on the Essex/Suffolk coast, where it grows in abundance. You must not pull it by the root, instead cutting it so that regrowth can occur. Cockles (similar to clams but smaller) maybe an easier bet. They are often only an inch or so below the surface of the sand. Am not familiar with Wigan but I find local fisherman – amateurs or professionals are usually helpful at pointing you in the right direction. I have done a whole post on cockles if you type ‘cockles’ into the search box to the right of the screen on my home page. Best of luck. Torie

  11. Louise

    Hi. I’ve seen a lovely patch of samphire and am planning a dinner party on Saturday. How long will it keep in the fridge? I’d like to harvest it in advance if I can.

    • Hi Louise, I would probably pick the day before so that it is still fresh. You want to make sure that you really wash it and when you pick it make sure to cut it at the base but to not pull out the roots, so that it can regrow. Best of luck. Torie

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