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.
In the 17th century, Shakespeare 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.
Rock samphire has fleshy, divided aromatic leaves that Culpeper described as having a "pleasant, hot and spicy taste"
The stems, leaves and seed pods may be pickled in hot, salted, spiced vinegar, or the leaves used fresh in salads.
Richard Mabey gives several recipes for samphire, although it is possible that at least one of these may refer to marsh samphire or glasswort (Salicornia europaea), a very common confusion.
Photos Gialousa 1/10/2014 by George Konstantinou