Samphire (Tecticornia) is a genus of salt tolerant, ground hugging succulents, some of which are endemic or unique to Australia. The genus contains several species, many of which are edible and are commonly referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorn, glasswort, pickleweed, and sea beans. On such species is Blackseed Samphire (Tecticornia pergranulata), which grows freely on the salty flats of Southern Australia, particularly in the Mildura region of the Murray-Darling basin.
Samphire species have been foraged by the indigenous people of Australia for tens of thousands of years, and are very popular due to their abundance, delicious flavor and their nutritional value. Samphire is, however protected in some locations, and because regulations vary between states it is necessary to make enquiries before taking it from the wild.
Samphire is considered best for use in summer (from October to March) when the fine young shoots are bright green, aromatic, crunchy and give fresh salty burst of flavour, reminiscent of asparagus. In Winter the older leaves turn a reddish/pink colour and can become fibrous, however there is still some green to be found at the base of the plants.
As well as consuming the succulent shoot system of many species of Samphire, the aboriginal people of the Victorian goldfields would also harvest the seeds of the Blackseed Samphire and make them into a kind of cake called Kurumi.
Traditionally, Europeans have disregarded Samphire, however recently the potential of these species as a food plant has been rediscovered and they are appearing on restaurant menus across the country. Although Samphire is high in vitamin A, calcium and iron it is still used mainly as a tasty novelty food rather than one with dietary nutritional value.
The Samphire species take their name from the word ‘sampiere’, which is derived from the French word for Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. This is because European species of Samphire are mostly associated with rocky, salt sprayed coastal areas. The native Australian species, on the other hand, are mostly found fringing inland clay pans, salty swamps and salt lakes, and are well known for their adaptability to high salinity and flooding.
Commercial production of Samphire is on a small scale only, with produce going to some farmers markets and restaurants. Some is also obtained by foraging, which is a tradition maintained by indigenous people for home consumption.
While Samphire can still be found widely across Southern Australia its use as a food source is underutilized and the tradition surrounding it is at risk of being lost.