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Samphire is a name given to a number of distinct edible plants that grow in some coastal areas.
- Rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum is a coastal species with white flowers that grows in the United Kingdom. This is probably the species mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear.
- Golden samphire, Limbarda crithmoides is a coastal species with yellow flowers that grows across Eurasia.
- Several species in the genus Salicornia.
- Blutaparon vermiculare.
- Tecticornia, Australian.
- Sarcocornia, cosmopolitan.
Originally "sampiere", a corruption of the French "Saint Pierre" (Saint Peter), samphire was named for the patron saint of fishermen because all of the original plants with its name grow in rocky salt-sprayed regions along the sea coast of northern Europe or in its coastal marsh areas. It is sometimes called sea asparagus or sea pickle. In Norfolk it is commonly called sampha [sam-fa]. In North Wales, especially along the River Dee's marshes, it has always been known as sampkin.
All the plants bearing the name are annuals that begin growing in late autumn and vegetate throughout the winter until the first warm weather arrives. Then the first stems and internodes form, and by mid-spring the plant measures 6 to 8 cm.
Marsh samphire ashes were used to make soap and glass (hence its other old English name, "glasswort"). In the 14th century glassmakers located their workshops near regions where this plant grew, since it was so closely linked to their trade. Samphires of all kinds have long been eaten in England. The leaves were gathered early in the year and pickled or eaten in salads with oil and vinegar. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear:
- Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade! (Act IV, Scene VI). This refers to the dangers involved in collecting rock samphire on sea cliffs.
Samphire is gaining popularity in the UK, being served more often in restaurants as an accompaniment to fish dishes, and is also found more often in supermarkets.