(Crithmum maritimum) The thick, fleshy leaves are edible, and quite sought after. This is the plant whose cliff-face gathering Shakespeare called a "dreadful trade" in King Lear (iv. Sc 5 line 12 ...). From Dover and the Isle of Wight, samphire was despatched in casks of brine to London, where in the 19th century, wholesalers would pay up to 4 shillings a bushel for it (Mabey. 1972). There are various ways of preparing it - on the Yorkshire coast it is cooked and eaten cold with bread (Grigson. 1955), or it can be gathered, boiled for ten minutes, then served with lemon and butter. But the usually favoured way of dealing with it is as a pickle. Gerard knew about this: "the leaves kept in pickle, and eaten in sallads with oile and vinegar, is a pleasant sauce for meat". So, indeed, are the young shoots of GLASSWORT (Salicornia europaea), actually called Samphire, or Marsh Samphire, etc., (Britten & Holland). Experts say, though, that it is inferior to the proper stuff (Hepburn). Nevertheless, it was still being collected in the Eastern counties into recent times (Grigson. 1955), and may still be gathered even now.
The name Samphire comes from the French 'herbe de St Pierre'; which is 'herba di San Pietro' in Italian, too (Ellacombe). 'Pierre' also means stone, so if we disregard the attribution to St Peter, we can see that samphire means simply a plant that grows on a rock (Young), and it was this fact that led to its medical use against stone, or general bladder and kidney trouble. The doctrine of siugnatures is presumably responsible, too, for Gerard's "The leaves, seeds, and roots, as Disocorides saith, boiled in wine and drunk, provoke urine and womens sicknesse, and prevaile against the jaundice".
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