Sea asparagus, salicornia, samphire, glasswort, drift seeds … it’s the crunchy marsh plant that tastes like the ocean, whatever you call it. –Susannah Black
Former restaurant chef and author of “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,” Hank Shaw says mid-to-late June is optimal sea bean foraging season.
Abundant along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, sea beans are leafy, spindly and edible marsh plants that thrive in high-saline environments. Their roots are based in sand and saltwater and can be found locally in the high-tide lands of the Chesapeake Bay, says Shaw. The top few inches are the most tender, ideal for picking and eating.
They aren’t difficult to identify, says Shaw, “because the plant itself looks weird … kind of like a teeny, tiny cactus.”
“Sea beans have a nice brine to them,” Ma says. “It’s almost like eating an oyster.”
While sea beans can be pickled, steamed, sauteed, deep fried or blanched, Ma prefers them raw: “I eat them like potato chips.”
Finding, not foraging
Inland dwellers might have difficulty finding sea beans in most supermarkets, but Whole Foods in Arlington and Old Town Alexandria will stock them this summer for $9.99 per pound.
They are also available online from specialty food suppliers like the Michigan-based Earthy Delights.