Looking for an easy to grow, attractive, edible, nutritious perennial succulent? Then the samphires (not the British band . . . ) are the answer. Their name comes from their ability to grow in salty environments in either dry, rocky areas or coastal marshes. It’s derived from the French “Saint Pierre” who was the patron saint of fishermen. Different species have adapted to these environments in different parts of the world. The best known are Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritinum and marsh samphire Salicornia in Britain and Tecticornia in Australia. Since they are in different plant families there is some confusion in descriptions of how to use them.

Rock Samphire

Originally a wild plant on the coasts of Europe as far as the Black Sea and north Africa, Rock Samphire (also called Sea Fennel) was hailed a vegetable that would prevent scurvy and was widely used by sailors in the 17th century. In addition to vitamin C it is also high in vitamins A, B2 and B15 and in minerals. Traditionally, it was pickled and sold from large barrels. It was also popular in the Victorian era. It grew in places many other plants avoided i.e. rocky cliffs and crevices along the coast where it was exposed to salt. Its persistent popularity, coupled with extensive over-development of coastal regions led to it being given protected status in 1971 in Great Britain. Now it is available from specialist herb and vegetable nurseries, including here in Australia.

In its natural environment it grows as a rather compact plant. It has attractive light yellowish green, somewhat fern-like, foliage. In other locations it can grow larger – to around 50cm high and from 50 – 1000 cm wide and will hide ugly backyard corners or sprawl over low walls. If there are taller shrubs next to it, branches can climb through them to a greater height. The whitish/yellow very small flowers are borne in panicles for long periods of the year.

Planting schedule

Rock Samphire, an evergreen, can be planted at almost any time of the year in most locations. It is probably better to wait until spring or autumn in colder areas. After a year or so the base of older stems become rather woody and are best removed.


It does best when planted in full sun with protection from cold winds. However, it will still grow in exposed locations, especially if near the coast where salty winds prevail.

Talking Dirty

Despite its historical preference for well-drained, gravelly, rocky soil, it does well elsewhere. From my personal experience, it will grow well in other types of soil provided that other characteristics of its location are favorable.


Don’t bother – this is a real survivor.


Since its natural habitat is near the sea, it does like to be moist, but it can withstand dry periods.


It makes a salty addition to salads. Either dress the soft green leafy tips with oil and lemon juice or add them to other salads instead of salt.

There are many ways of using it cooked. Try sauteeing it in oil or butter (unsalted) for a minute or so and adding it to other vegetables as a garnish. Prepared like that it goes well with fish or lamb. Or you could add it chopped to the last 30 seconds of boiling pasta. Remember that it is salty!

Other Samphires

These are also salt-tolerant species growing in similar environments but belonging to different plant families. Probably the best known are the Australian bushfood, Tecticornia, and the European Marsh Samphire which belongs to the genus Salicornia.

Australian Tecticornia

These plants were a bushfood used by aboriginals and are, with the exception of one species, endemic to Australia. With 44 different species growing in many different locations across the country, they have light green branched segmented stems. Some are annuals and others perennials and grow in marshy locations in both coastal areas and inland salty mud flats. Sizes vary from 20 cm to several meters high. Today they are known under a variety of names including Samphire, Sea Asparagus and Pilgilli.

One low growing species, Bead Glasswort (Tecticornia flabelliformis) which grows in inland areas in Victoria, South Australia and south Western Australia is listed as vulnerable under the national Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Others, however, may be foraged and some are grown commercially for several purposes including stock grazing or for use in restaurants. As a tasty addition in food for us humans, it is mostly either cooked briefly or pickled in vinegar and spices. Seeds of several Tecticornia species are sold from specialist Australian garden centres.

Marsh Samphire Salicornia

Salicornia europa is commonly known in Great Britain as Sea Asparagus, Picklewort, Marsh Samphire or Glasswort and, as its name suggests, grows wild both on the coast and inland in swampy areas. This is a problem for foragers since walking in mud can be tricky and removing all traces of it from the plant after picking requires great care. It is 20 – 30 cm tall and has segmented stems. Again, as one of the names suggest, the flavor and cooking methods are somewhat similar to asparagus.

It can be grown in pots or in the ground but needs sea salt to be added when watering. The tips are best harvested in summer when they have the most flavor. But we can’t say with certainty that it is available in Australia because it is sometimes not clear about exactly which species is being used in restaurants which claim that they use it.