Crithmum maritimum - Rock Samphire, Samphire

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Crithmum is a genus of flowering plant with the sole species Crithmum maritimum, known as samphirerock samphire, or sea fennel. Rock samphire is an edible wild plant. It is found on southern and western coasts of Britain and Ireland, on mediterranean and western coasts of Europe including the Canary Islands, North Africa and the Black Sea. "Samphire" is a name also used for several other unrelated species of coastal plant.

Crithmum maritimum is edible and medicinal with such relatives as celery and fennel, among many others.

I took these photos in Montenegro, but have encountered this plant along rocky sea coasts throughout the mediterranean basin.

In the 17th century, William Shakespeare made a reference to dangerous activity of collecting Samphire from rocky cliffs when he wrote, “Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!”

In the 19th century, samphire was being shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to market in London at the end of May each year.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

 Crithmum maritimum flower and leaves.

Crithmum maritimum flower and leaves.

The stems have been described as having a pleasent, hot, and spicy taste.

Stems, leaves and seed pods can be harvested and pickled in hot, salted, spiced vinegar, or the leaves used fresh in salads.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

The cultivation of Rock Samphire used to be more common. The plant grows readily in a light, rich soil. Obtaining seed commercially is now difficult, and in the United Kingdom the removal of wild plants is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

CHEMISTRY

Crithmum contains the phenylpropanoid Apiole, a compound also present in Cinnamomum camphora and Piper angustifolium.

Some phenylpropanoids, such as Myristicin (present in Nutmeg) can have cytotoxic and mind altering effects. Myristicin is a Monoamine-oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), which inhibits the function of MAO, a gastral enzyme that oxidises monoamine. This inhibition results in an increase of biogenic amine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Psychotropic effects resemble those of amphetamine. Of course, when you consume MAOIs in requisite quantities along with plants containing dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT), the resulting psychoactive effects are far more pronounced.