Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)
Sea Fennel or Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is known in the Balearics under the name of Fonoll marí (Catalan) or Hinojo marino (Castellano). In France, it is known as Criste marine. In Mallorca, pickled Fonoll marí (see photo bottom) is a common, almost indispensable embellishment of a traditional Pa amb oli.
The plant is in flower from June to October.
One is more likely to encounter the plant in its culinary variation in one of the local markets where it is sold by providers of aceitunas (olives), pickled garlic, capers and dried tomatoes, than out in the open nature. The plant is less abundant than it used to be due to some abusive and uncontrolled picking. Should you happen to find the plant whilst ambling along on a coastal walk or hike, you can take a few sprigs back home and try the fleshy leaves in its raw state as part of your summer salad. Don’t take more than a few shoots, though, as the plant is listed in the Catálogo Balear as being protected by law.
Crithmum maritimum is a strongly aromatic, salty herb; it contains a volatile oil, pectin, is rich in vitamin C and minerals, has diuretic effects, cleanses toxins and improves digestion.
The plant is quoted by John Gerard in his Materia Medica and Herbals (1597): “The leaves kept in pickle and eaten in sallads with oile and vinegar is a pleasant sauce for meat, wholesome for the stoppings of the liver, milt and kidnies. It is the pleasantest sauce, most familiar and best agreeing with man’s body”.
Nicholas Culpeper describes the plant in his Complete Herbal (1653) as having a “pleasant, hot and spicy taste”, but he deplores that it had in his days much gone out of fashion: “Out of fashion, this is deplorable, as it is a great digestive”.
The plant is probably the species mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear: “Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!”.