Sea Holly

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Sea Holly Erygium maritimum

Apiaceae

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I have included the lovely Sea Holly more for interest than in the hope that you will search it out and collect it. It has a history of being eaten, the thin but numerous roots containing starch, but it grows in the delicate and important habitat of sand dunes and, naturally, requires digging-up. Sand dunes suffer the attentions of wind and sea, and sometimes a Sea Holly plant may be completely dislodged, or have some of its roots exposed. On these occasions it seems perfectly reasonable to snip off a few roots and take them home. It will be another wild plant to tick of your list and tell people about at parties.

The plant is very striking, with leaves that look just like those of holly, though even sharper and grey-green. It can form a fairly substantial bush and, if you are lucky, you will see the stunning blue flowers, which are like those of a thistle. It can be found in suitable habitats south from Hull, all the way down and around up to Galloway. It is scattered elsewhere with a few populations in the western islands of Scotland.

The roots are slender – thinner than a pencil, but they are long and a single plant will have many. Despite very strong appearances, Sea Holly is in the carrot family, and its roots may be cooked in just the same way. The traditional way of using them, however, is candied. This involves cooking them gently then soaking them in increasingly strong sugar syrup over a week or so and then drying them. There is little flavour beyond sweetness and you will wonder why it was considered to be worth so much effort, but as Culpeper shyly informs us, ‘it strengthens the spirit procreative’.

The roots are available all year round, but I have placed Sea Holly in the late spring and early summer as it will give you a project for your seaside holiday.