Sea Sandwort

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Sea Sandwort Honckenya peploides

Caryophyllaceae

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I first tried Sea Sandwort before I knew either what it was or whether or not it was poisonous. My defence of this reckless behaviour is that I only tasted a small amount and then spat it out. I did not like it at all. But tastes move on and it has become one of those ingredients collected for expensive restaurants and I once helped my Danish friend, Thomas, collect some for a this purpose. I was slightly staggered by the price he was getting and wondered if I should rethink my mild policy of not supplying the catering trade.

Sea Sandwort is very succulent (which is a good thing) the tiny pointed leaves arranged in alternating, opposite pairs up the stem with geometrical precision. The taste, however, is sour and bitter, with just a hint of the more pleasant pea. Boiled for a few minutes they do improve, slightly. Young specimens are much nicer, but still a little bitter. Inevitably, so succulent and pretty a plant has been pickled, and that is probably its best use beyond exotic decoration. Although common, it is not a plant you should (or would wish to) pick in great quantities as it is very attractive, especially when the tiny white flowers appear.

It grows all the way around the British coast wherever it can find its favored habitat – coastal sand dunes or gravelly upper shores. Although it is only a small plant at less than foot tall when fully grown, it is very conspicuous because of its habit of growing in dense, carpeting patches. These patches are, for the most part, single-sex enclaves – the male colony perhaps a long way from the female. The reason for this was described in the 233 pages of an academic paper and seems to have something to do with males tolerating poorer conditions because they do not need to support the growth of the seeds. I may have got this wrong, but it was a very, very long paper.