Samphire is an edible Australian native succulent that thrives in sandy soil and salty environment. Here’s how to grow it, eat it and use it in cocktails.
What is Samphire
Samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) is an Australian native coastal shrub. Also known as sea asparagus, beaded samphire, glasswort, beaded glasswort, swamp grass, salicorne, pickleweed, marsh samphire and sea beans, it is commonly found in wet coastal areas of Australia, growing in saline areas such as salt marshes and mudflats.
Not to be confused with Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) which is related to the carrot and parsley family, the perennial succulent is more akin to Tecticornia lepidosperma which is is the Western Australia native equivalent.
My plants produced tiny flowers in late March as can be seen in the photo above. They’re best described as “inconspicuous and contained in whorl-like rings (each ‘false’ whorl at the same level) within 1-5 cm long and 3-5 mm wide succulent spikes at the ends of branches. Flowers are in single rows of 10-18 per false whorl and often only noticeable when their yellow anthers or white stigmas protrude.” (source)
How to Grow Samphire / Sarcocornia Quinqueflora
Samphire is a perennial that grows in poor sandy soil to 30cm to 50cm tall and just as wide. It favours full sun, salty water and can be grown in containers or in the ground. After a long search, I was able to source samphire seedlings and I am growing them in a raised garden bed which is dedicated to Australian native edibles. I am told that it can also be propagated from cuttings rooted in a mild saline solution using sea salt (not table salt) but I have not tried it.
To mimic its natural habitat, I give my plants a regular watering with a seaweed solution or a home brew of seaweed tea and the occasional mild sea salt water.
Samphire is at its best to harvest in late spring/summer when the shoots are plump and brighter green in colour. Its growing season runs from October to March and during the colder months, it is known to turn a reddish colour at the base and can become woody and fibrous.
It is worth mentioning that if you find it in salt marshes, don’t go foraging. Salt marshes are identified as Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW (source).
Culinary Uses of Samphire
Samphire is a delicious salty succulent that adds texture and saltiness to food. It can be eaten raw for maximum flavour or pickled. If you find it too salty, you can always blanch it, but for me, it defeats the purpose of using a naturally salty ingredient.
Crunchy in texture, samphire pairs well with fish, goes well with salads, eggs, vegetables and complements nori and seaweed. Add it to stir fried greens, dress it with olive oil, salt and pepper as a side dish, fold it into an omelette and use it as garnish on fresh seafood such as oysters. It’s delicious over ribbons of pasta with roast salmon and in white fish with lemon butter.
In cocktails, samphire adds salinity to a drink, giving it a maritime influence and complements a coastal drinking style of cocktails. I have used it in many ways in cocktails. Here are two examples:
- Girt By Sea cocktail: infused with vodka, with finger lime, tomato and native pepperberry shrub, sea salt flakes and kelp oil
- Sea Change Martini, created for Dulcie’s Cocktail Bar in Kings Cross, Sydney
Pickled samphire can also be used as cocktail garnish.