Shores of Great Britain, northwestern Europe and North America
Originally "sampiere" from the French "Saint Pierre". Samphire - the word is a corruption of St. Peter - was named for the patron of fishermen because it grows in rocky salt-sprayed regions along the sea coast. It can also be found in coastal marsh areas.
It is an annual plant specific to salty areas that begins growing in late fall and vegetates throughout the winter until the first warm weather arrives. Then the first stems and internodes form and by mid-spring the plant measures 6 to 8 cm.
In the old days, samphire ashes were used to make soap and glass (hence its other old English name, "glasswort.") In the 14th century glassmakers located their workshops near regions where this plant grew, since it was so closely linked to their trade.
Samphire has long been eaten in England. The leaves were gathered early in the year and pickled or eaten in salads with oil and vinegar. It is even mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear:
Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!'
…referring to the dangers involved in collecting it on rocky sea cliffs!
Marsh samphire can be found along all the shorelines of Europe and North America and every year produces cylindrical branches that resemble a type of ragged cactus. However, beneath this ragged exterior, the plant has developed a quite remarkable biological organization. It is halophilic (it likes salt) and survives perfectly in hostile coastal conditions.
It also resists tidal flows by regulating the water level in its cells. Used as a food because of its high content of vitamins and minerals, marsh samphire also produces an oil highly prized in cosmetics. Clarins Laboratories use it for its capacity to keep moisture inside skin cells, which helps ensure optimal, long-lasting hydration.
Photo: ID : 9745900 / Pauliene Wessel / MSCOMM
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