These little tendrils of joy delight me with their quiet insidious clamberings over the less subtle denizens of the hedgerow. Suck the flowers for a tiny, yet hugely rewarding sweet nectar hit, then chew to enjoy generous pea flavours. The delicate leaves and tendrils from the end of the stems make excellent garnishes, in the vein of “microherbs” so popular with chefs nowadays. Only these are nicer. And free.
This adorable, delicate little flower clings tenaciously to sea cliffs, upper reaches of shingle beaches and the foreshore. The tips of the foliage have a unique flavour, though with a somewhat bitter aftertaste in summer. The flowers have a delicious hit of sweet nectar followed by an extraordinary fresh “mouth feel”…
There is something about alcoholic aniseed flavours that works wonderfully with sunshine – as witnessed by the popularity of drinks on the licorice-anise spectrum around the med: absinthe, ouzo, sambuca, anis…I could go on. So I figured why not use our indigenous (in the north of Britain anyway) sweet cicely (myrrhis oderata) to make a cocktail.
Sea aster is one of many gastronomic delights you can gather easily and sustainably on the salty water margin. It hangs out with other stars of the wild food world like Marsh samphire, sea purslane, sea arrowgrass, sea plantain, annual sea blight, scurvy grass and orache and i’m pretty envious of the sheep that get to graze these delicacies.
If foraging conjures up images of bimbling along tranquil hedgerows, gently picking berries with a gentle sun on your back, then picking rock samphire may disabuse you of the notion. Though it does occasionally grow on the foreshore, its preferred home, clinging to precipitous coastal cliffs, makes for anything but bucolic harvesting.