Rock samphire is an edible perennial plant that grows near the sea on rocks and cliffs and sometimes even on sand and shingles. Despite not being especially well-known for its medicinal uses, rock samphire does have several potential benefits and several studies have already looked into its effects.
What is Rock Samphire?
Known scientifically as Crithmum maritmum, rock samphire also has a number of other common names including sea fennel, marine fennel and crest marine. The plant, which belongs to the Apiaceae family, grows wild on seaside rocks and cliffs, piers and sandy beaches. It is especially abundant along the Mediterranean coast but can also be found thriving along the coastlines of Great Britain and Ireland and the Black sea.
Rock samphire has a variety of culinary uses. The plant is sometimes used fresh in salads, or pickled to use as a condiment. The herb fell out of favor for a long while but was recently rediscovered and has now found its way back into many kitchens. Rock samphire also has a number of cosmetic uses and these days is used to make medicine.
Rock samphire has a long history of medicinal use. It was traditionally used as a tonic and an appetizer as well as being used as a natural carminative and diuretic. Studies have also found that it contains powerful antioxidants that can help protect the body from disease.
Some Facts About Rock Samphire
- Rock samphire is a perennial plant that grows to a height of around 25 centimeters.
- The plant is sometimes confused with golden samphire – inula critmoides. However golden samphire belongs to the Astaraceae family which a completely different family of plants. (Astaraceae)
- The leaves can be eaten either raw or when cooked and are sometimes used to make salads.
- The leaves are harvested in Spring and are salted and boiled to make a pickle which is used in condiments.
- The leaves are extremely salty with a flavor similar to fennel but considerably more bitter.
- The leaves of the plant are extremely rich in vitamin C.
- In the past, rock samphire was consumed by sailors to protect them against scurvy.
- The plant contains essential oils that are used in the perfume industry.
- The parts of the plant above the ground are consumed and used used to make medicine.
- Rock samphire has a number of medicinal properties including digestive, diuretic, carminative and depurative properties.
- The herb is used these days to help boost digestive health and relieve bloating and flatulence. It is also used to help treat kidney conditions and to combat fatigue.
- Proponents claim that the herb can help combat obesity.
Nutritional information and Active Ingredients
Rock samphire is very rich in vitamin C and also contains a number of minerals including iron, zinc, magnesium, sulfates and iodine.
The plant also contains various flavonoids, furanocoumarins, polyacetylenes and pectin and essential oil. The essential oil derived from the plant contains a number of active compounds including limonene, geranyl acetate, gamma terpinene, thymol methyl ether, sabin and dillapiole.
Health Benefits of Rock Samphire
Studies into the chemical profile of Crithmum maritimum have found that it contains excellent antioxidant potential. (1) The vitamin C as well as various flavonoids contained in the plant all have excellent antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are essential to protect us from a wide range of diseases. They help neutralize the damage caused by free radicals also known as oxidative stress. By getting more antioxidants into the system, we can reduce the risk of a number of serious illnesses including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidants also have an anti-aging effect on the skin. they can help make your skin look younger and healthier and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Rock samphire is often believed to be good for digestive health in general and may help treat a number of common conditions linked to poor digestion. The plant contains an essential oil which can help reduce bloating and gas and may also have a soothing quality to help relieve muscle cramps and spasms.
May Aid Weight Control
The plant has developed a reputation for its ability to help you lose weight and maybe to help combat obesity. There is little in the way of scientific evidence to prove these claims but it may be linked to the plant’s digestive benefits and iodine content.
Rock samphire is rich in antioxidant compounds including vitamin C and various flavonoids. Because of this, the plant is sometimes used as an ingredient in a number of skin care products.
Rock samphire essential oil often sold as ‘sea fennel essential oil is also used to help treat the skin. The oil has outstanding regenerative properties and can help improve skin tone while combating wrinkles and aging. It is also applied to the skin to help reduce the appearance of scars and cellulite.
According to research, some of the compounds found in the plant work as natural antibiotics. The plant contains compounds called polyacytelenes including falcarinon which are known to have antibacterial activities. This may explain the reported benefits that rock samphire has on the urinary tract and the digestive system.
How To Use Rock Samphire
Rock samphire is usually eaten fresh but it is also sometimes drunk in the form of a tea. It may be very salty but the plant is a wonderful source of antioxidants and vitamin C which can do wonders for your health. An essential oil extracted from the plant is also available. This can be applied topically to help soothe digestive troubles or to give the skin a lift.
Cooking with Rock Samphire
Rock samphire has recently come back into fashion with chefs looking to add variety to their menus and there are plenty of recipes available online,
It is especially good when used as an accompaniment to seafood or fish dishes. Its succulent leaves and its stalks are both edible and can can be either steamed or boiled and eaten like asparagus. The leaves can also make an excellent addition to a salad while the seeds and stems can be pickled for later use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is rock samphire edible?
Yes. Rock samphire is an edible wild plant. The above ground parts of the plant can be eaten fresh in salads or as a vegetable. The seed pods can also be pickled and used as in condiments and are commonly used as a substitute for capers.
Is rock samphire the same as samphire?
Rock samphire – Crithmum maritimum is often confused with another type of samphire called marsh samphire – Salicornia europeae. Marsh samphire which resembles small asparagus shoots is more common. However, marsh samphire grows in muddy or sandy flats around estuaries while rock samphire – usually grows higher up on rocks and cliffs
What does rock samphire taste like?
Rock samphire is extremely salty with a crunchy texture. It has an intense flavor reminiscent of fennel but considerably more pungent.
Side Effects and Precautions
- Rock samphire is considered safe when eaten in food amounts.
- The plant contains furocoumarins which can cause some people to become sensitive to direct sunlight. This may result in a reaction called phytophotodermatitis.
- You should never use rock samphire essential oil internally and should dilute it with a carrier oil before applying it topically.
- Rock samphire is an edible plant that grows on cliffs near the sea.
- It has a number of culinary uses but also a range of potential medicinal benefits.
- It is a great source of antioxidants that protect you from illness and disease. It can also help improve the digestive system and benefit your skin.