Marsh Samphire – Salicornia

Marsh Samphire - Salicornia

A couple of months ago I did a few videos that introduced you to the area of Essex where I live.  Recent television programmes and long-held stereo types have done nothing for the image of Essex but the area I live in is truly beautiful if you know where to look and also incredibly historic.  Colchester is just up the road and boasts the status of England’s first ever city as established by the Romans before being burnt to the ground by Boudicca.  The Dedham Vale AONB (Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty) and all the areas associated with famous painter John Constable are equally just as close as is Manningtree which holds the title of England’s smallest town and the home of Matthew Hopkins the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General several centuries ago.  The videos I shared focussed on two habitats that are just on the outskirts of my village but are incredibly different to explore – ancient woodland (video one and two) and river estuary – and today I wanted to return to the estuary for you.

Alresford Creek - tidal river estuary mudflats
Alresford Creek – tidal river estuary mudflats

Back in April I was excited to share my area with you but there was one plant that just wasn’t there to show so I figured it was time to go back to the mudflats of the tidal estuary known locally as Alresford Creek.  Now I explained in my videos that Alresford derives its name from ‘Alders by the Ford’ as there is a now unused crossing from one side of the Creek to the other and plenty of local Alder trees aound.  I shared so many things in those videos but like I said there is one I couldn’t and that’s Marsh Samphire (Salicornia).

Samphire, as it’s often referred to, can be a little misleading as there are in fact three native plants that bear the name – Rock Samphire, Golden Samphire and Marsh Samphire.  To confuse things further they even all belong to a different family so aren’t related anyway.  And if you really want to throw a spanner in the works Marsh Samphire actually covers 7 species which you’d have to be pretty clued up on to even tell the difference so let’s keep it simple and accept Marsh Samphire is all we need to know to find and munch on something yummy.  However, keep you’re picking to ‘cutting’ so as not to illegally uproot and also spread the harvest around as some of the 7 species are in fact quite rare so best not to decimate an area – which as responsible foragers I’m sure you wouldn’t. One final thing to consider is that there is also a season for picking – a bit like game shooting – but it isn’t exactly enforced but for completeness of information sharing it’s the 21st June until it’s no longer worth picking.

It’s a rather muddy and wet ordeal to collect but that salty, succulent taste is a welcome addition to any salad or perhaps a stir fry with only very minimal exposure to the heat.  You can also treat it as a smaller, saltier, alternative to asparagus and it can cooked the same way to your own tastes.

Prepare to get wet and muddy
Prepare to get wet and muddy as that’s where you’ll find it.

If you find yourself in the right habitat there really is no mistaking it for anything else.  It always starts to emerge around June as what looks like clusters of tiny, smooth, succulent cacti. It becomes less appetising as the summer goes on as it has a thin woody stem at its core that gets more and more apparent.  The size can vary quite a lot though depending on the quality of the habitat and how well walked the area is as it doesn’t like to be trampled or trodden on so please keep that in mind when harvesting.  Anything from a few centimetres up to around 20cm is not unheard of and colours also vary from bright green to red.  Around September you might also be lucky to spot the truly tiny flowers that can also vary in colour of either white or red but you really have got to look closely.

Marsh Samphire -Salicornia
Marsh Samphire – Salicornia

I appreciate river estuary mudflats is not a habitat that everyone has on their doorstep but the opportunity was just too good not to share and the taste is just great combined with Sea Purslane and Sea Beet (covered in the video) in a salad or stir fry – be warned though hold back on the Soy Sauce unless you like really salty flavours.

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