Salicornia is a genus of succulent, halophyte (salt tolerant) plants that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves. Salicornia species are native to North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia. Common names for the genus include glasswort, pickleweed, and marsh samphire; these common names are also used for some species not in Salicornia. The main European species is often eaten, called marsh samphire in Britain, and the main North American species is occasionally sold in grocery stores or appears on restaurant menus, usually as 'sea beans'.
The Salicornia species are small, usually less than 30 cm tall, succulent herbs with a jointed horizontal main stem and erect lateral branches. The leaves are small and scale-like, and as such, the plant may appear leafless. Many species are green, but their foliage turns red in autumn. The hermaphrodite flowers are wind pollinated, and the fruit is small and succulent and contains a single seed.
Salicornia species can generally tolerate immersion in salt water. They use the C4 carbon fixation pathway to take in carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere.
Salicornia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Coleophora case-bearers C. atriplicis and C. salicorniae (the latter feeds exclusively on Salicornia spp.).
Nearly 60 species have been proposed for Salicornia. Some common species are:
- American, Virginia or woody glasswort, Salicornia virginica
- Common glasswort, Salicornia europaea
- Dwarf glasswort, Salicornia bigelovii
- Perennial glasswort, Salicornia perennis (see Sarcocornia perennis)
- Purple glasswort, Salicornia ramosissima
- Slender glasswort, Salicornia maritima
- Umari keerai, Salicornia brachiata
Salicornia europaea is highly edible, either cooked or raw. In England, it is one of several plants known as samphire (see also Rock samphire); the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, [herbe de] Saint-Pierre, which means "St. Peter's herb".
Samphire is usually cooked, either steamed or microwaved, and then coated in butter or olive oil. Due to its high salt content, it must be cooked without any salt added, in plenty of water. It has a hard, stringy core, and after cooking, the edible flesh is pulled off from the core. This flesh, after cooking, resembles seaweed in color, and the flavor and texture are like young spinach stems or asparagus. Samphire is often used as a suitably maritime accompaniment to fish or seafood.
In addition to S. europaea, the seeds of S. bigelovii yield a highly edible oil. S. bigelovii's edibility is compromised somewhat because it contains saponins, which are toxic under certain conditions.
On the east coast of Canada, the plant is known as "samphire greens" and is a local delicacy. In Southeast Alaska, it is known as "beach asparagus". In Nova Scotia, Canada, they are known as "crow's foot greens". In the United States, they are known as "sea beans" when used for culinary purposes. Other names include "sea green bean", "pousse-pierre", "passe-pierre", "pousse-pied", "sea pickle", and "marsh samphire".
Industrial use (historical)
The ashes of glasswort and saltwort plants and of kelp were long used as a source of soda ash (mainly sodium carbonate) for glassmaking and soapmaking. The introduction of the LeBlanc process for industrial production of soda ash superseded the use of plant sources in the first half of the 19th century.
Umari keerai is used as raw material in paper and board factories.
Industrial use (contemporary)
Because Salicornia bigelovii can be grown using saltwater and its seeds contain high levels of unsaturated oil (30%, mostly linoleic acid) and protein (35%), it can be used to produce animal feedstuff and as a biofuel feedstock on coastal land where conventional crops cannot be grown. Adding nitrogen-based fertiliser to the seawater appears to increase the rate of growth and the eventual height of the plant, and the effluent from marine aquaculture (e.g. shrimp farming) is a suggested use for this purpose.
Experimental fields of Salicornia have been planted in Ras al-Zawr (Saudi Arabia), Eritrea (northeast Africa) and Sonora (northwest Mexico) aimed at the production of biodiesel. The company responsible for the Sonora trials (Global Seawater) claims between 225 and 250 gallons of BQ-9000 biodiesel can be produced per hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) of salicornia, and is promoting a $35 million scheme to create a 12,000-acre (49 km2) salicornia farm in Bahia de Kino.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Salicornia.|
- Salicornia, Integrated Taxonomic Information System, serial number 20646.
- Ball, Peter W. (2004). "Salicornia L.," in Flora of North America: North of Mexico Volume 4: Magnoliophyta: Caryophyllidae, part 1, Editorial Committee of the Flora of North America (Oxford University Press, 2004). ISBN 978-0-19-517389-5. Online versions retrieved July 14, 2007.
- Global Biodiversity Information Facility (2007). "Salicornia" webpage retrieved July 14, 2007.
- "Salicornia", page of the Plants for a Future website. Retrieved July 14, 2007.
- Davidson, Alan (2002). The Penguin Companion To Food (Penguin), p. 828. ISBN 978-0-14-200163-9. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Completely Revised and Updated (Scribner, New York), p. 317. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1.
- Salicornia, oil-yielding plant for coastal belts, The Hindu
- Cook's Thesaurus: Sea Vegetables, retrieved 2012-10-08.
- Glenn, Edward P.; Brown, J. Jed; O'Leary, James W. (August 1998). "Irrigating Crops with Seawater" (PDF). Scientific American (USA: Scientific American, Inc.) (August 1998): 76–81. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- Clark, Arthur (November–December 1994). "Samphire: From Sea to Shining Seed". Saudi Aramco World. Saudi Aramco. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- Alsaeedi, Abdullah H. (2003 (1424H)). "Di Pattern of Salicornia Vegetative Growth in Relation to Fertilization" (PDF). Journal of King Faisal University (Al-Hassa: King Faisal University) 4 (1): 105–118. Retrieved 2008-11-17. "adequate fertilization increases significantly the relative growth rate especially during the ‘rapid’ phase of the vegetative stage" [dead link]
- "USIJI Uniform Reporting Document" (PDF). United States Initiative on Joint Implementation (USIJI). c. 1997. Retrieved 2008-11-17. "Project Salicornia: Halophyte Cultivation in Sonora"
- Ryan C. Christiansen (2008-07-31). "Sea asparagus can be oilseed feedstock for biodiesel". Biomass Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
- Dickerson, Marla (2008-07-10). "Letting the sea cultivate the land". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
- BBC Gardener's Question Time - where there is apparently some confusion between the glasswort (marsh samphire, found in Suffolk) and the rock samphire (found in Dorset).
- BBC Good Food Channel - recipes for both marsh samphire and rock samphire.
- Biff Vernon discusses the common confusion between marsh samphire and rock samphire, and reproduces a poem on the subject by William Logan.
- Robert Freedman
- Reforma journal small article about experimental biodiesel fields in Sonora, Mexico
- Lists 'Famine Foods', including Umari Keerai (Salicornia brachiata).
- Seawaterfoundation running a seawaterfarm in Eritrea with Salicornia to produce oil, food and store carbon dioxide