Crithmum is a monospecific genus of flowering plant in the carrot family Apiaceae, with the sole species Crithmum maritimum, known as rock samphire, sea fennel or samphire. The name "samphire" is also used for several other unrelated succulent halophyte species of coastal plant.
Sea fennel, or Rock samphire, is an edible wild plant. It is found on southern and western coasts of Britain and Ireland, on Mediterranean and western coasts of Europe and in the Canary Islands, North Africa and on the coast of the Black Sea.
History, trade and cultivation
In the 17th century, Shakespeare in King Lear referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs. "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" In the 19th century, samphire was being shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to market in London at the end of May each year. Rock samphire used to be cried in London streets as "Crest Marine".
In England, rock samphire was cultivated in gardens, where it grows readily in a light, rich soil. Obtaining seed commercially is now difficult, and in the United Kingdom the removal of wild plants is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The reclaimed piece of land adjoining Dover, called Samphire Hoe, is named after rock samphire. The land was created from spoil from the Channel Tunnel, and rock samphire used to be harvested from the neighbouring cliffs.
Sea fennel pickle in olive oil or vinegar is a traditional food of Italy (Marche region), Croatia (Dalmatia), and Montenegro (Bay of Kotor). It is known as Paccasassi del Conero and used as an antipasto, to accompany fish and meat dishes and to garnish pizza and sandwiches.
Sea fennel has nutritional value, being rich in vitamin C, vitamins E and K, iodine, carotenoids and flavonoids. It is also rich in antioxidants and in omega-3 fatty acids. The consumption of sea fennel was common among seafarers as a valuable aid for the prevention of scurvy.
- "Crithmum maritimum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 13 March 2014.
- BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
- Shakespeare, William (1623). The Tragedy of King Lear. London. Act IV, scene VI, lines 14b-15
- Grigson, Geoffrey (1958). The Englishman's Flora. London: The Readers' Union, Phoenix House.
- Phillips, Roger (1983). Wild Food. Pan. ISBN 0-330-28069-4.
- Culpeper, Nicholas (1653). The Complete Herbal. London.
- Mabey, Richard (1975). Food For Free. Fontana. ISBN 0-00-613470-X.
- BBC Gardeners' Question Time – where there is apparently some confusion between the glasswort (marsh samphire, found in Suffolk) and the rock samphire (found in Dorset).
- Biff Vernon discusses the common confusion between marsh samphire and rock samphire, and reproduces a poem on the subject by William Logan.
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