Crithmum is a genus of flowering plant with the sole species Crithmum maritimum, known as samphire, rock samphire, or sea fennel. 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 including the Canary Islands, North Africa and the Black Sea. "Samphire" is a name also used for several other unrelated species of coastal plant.
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.
- "Crithmum maritimum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 13 March 2014.
- "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 25 January 2015. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- 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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