Samphire is a genus of salt-tolerant, ground-hugging succulents, some of which are endemic or unique to Australia, and it plays a vital role in our coastal ecosystem. The genus contains several species, many of which are edible and are commonly referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorn, glasswort, pickleweed and sea beans. Best blanched like asparagus; serve with roast lamb, in stir-fries and salads.
Crunchy in texture, it gives a salty fresh burst of flavour which is reminiscent of asparagus. Fine young shoots that are bright green are the best to use raw, cooking can be a quick blanch, or sauté and toss with macadamia or olive oil, garlic and onion.
The nutritive value of samphire is impressive, to say the least. Boasting almost no fat, this vegetable is packed with essential minerals, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium. That is in addition to a healthy amount of dietary fibre and vitamin A, B, and C. Furthermore, samphire contains unique compounds called fucoidans often found in sea vegetables, which can have anti- and effects. Together with its low-calorie (~100 calories per 100-gram serving), low-fat impact on your body, samphire can be a delicious and nutritious addition to your regular diet.
◎ Common Name: Samphire, Sea Asparagus, Swamp Grass, Glasswort, Pickleweed, Sea Beans
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Tecticornia spp.
◎ Comparison: Crisp, juicy, and salty
◎ Seasonality: All year fresh
◎ Region: Widely Grown
◎ Taste Profile: Marsh samphire has vibrant green stalks, similar to baby asparagus, with a distinctively crisp and salty taste. Rock samphire has a rather unpleasant smell and flavour.
◎ Types: Samphire is of two types – marsh samphire and rocky samphire and their differences lie in their habitat. While marsh samphire grows on salty mudflats, rocky samphire is seen growing on cliffs or rocks. The most common form is marsh samphire.
- Samphire health benefits include enhancing muscle contraction and promoting the repair of worn out tissues
- Samphire can improve bowel movements and increase beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Due to high levels of vitamin C it may help slow down ageing process and enhance the skin.
- It helps defend the body from pathogens, assist in blood circulation, and assist in formation of healthy bones.
- The high mineral content combined with low caloric value may aid in weight loss
- Samphire can also help reduce inflammation, and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Traditional Aboriginal Food and Uses
Samphire species have been foraged by the indigenous people of Australia for tens of thousands of years, and are very popular due to their abundance, delicious flavour and their nutritional value. Samphire is, however protected in some locations, and because regulations vary between states it is necessary to make enquiries before taking it from the wild.
As well as consuming the succulent shoot system of many species of Samphire, the aboriginal people of the Victorian goldfields would also harvest the seeds of the Blackseed Samphire and make them into a kind of cake called Kurumi.
Western & Modern
Traditionally, Europeans have disregarded Samphire, however recently the potential of these species as a food plant has been rediscovered and they are appearing on restaurant menus across the country. Although Samphire is high in vitamin A, calcium and iron it is still used mainly as a tasty novelty food rather than one with dietary nutritional value.
Samphire is an extremely versatile food and can be consumed fresh – raw or cooked – in a wide variety of dishes, dried or crushed, as a spice. When Samphire is dried and crushed, becomes a spice, and can be used as a seasoning. Depurative and diuretic substances make this spice the perfect alternative to the common salt.
The young, green shoots are crisp and crunchy in texture, similar to asparagus, giving a fresh, sea-salt burst of flavour. Samphire is considered best for use in Summer when the succulent ‘leaves’ are pale green and aromatic. Though the leaves turn pink in winter, any green remnants may still be blanched and eaten. Serve with seafood; in salads, pesto or salsa; or use as a garnish.
Last but not least, if you get a bumper harvest, turn some into a delicious pickle, great served with pâté and cheeses, or chopped into mayonnaise and served with fish.
Samphire is a diuretic and medical plant, which is rich in Vitamins and Minerals, has immune-stimulant characteristics, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-diabetic, all contributing to the prevention of arterial hypertension problems.
People take samphire to treat and prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble