Growing sea beans is becoming more and more popular for good reason. They taste fantastic, with a slightly salty, grassy flavor and crisp, refreshing texture. It’s not the easiest plant to grow, but if you can make it happen, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most delicious veggies you’ll ever taste.
When you see sea beans, you might picture the ocean. Why? Because this unusual plant resembles seaweed and grows by the coast. Not only does it enjoy a sea view but this remarkable succulent likes to grow in saltmarshes with high salinity.
Anyone can try to grow sea beans at home. It just takes some special consideration. This article will give you all the information to plant, grow, and care for this marvelous veggie.
What Is Salicornia Europaea?
There are many names for this succulent plant, botanically known as Salicornia europaea. These plants are also called sea beans, salicornia, marsh samphire, samphire greens, poor man’s asparagus, sea rocket, sea asparagus, glasswort, and chicken claws. You might have already come across this plant and not even known it, since it has so many names.
The plant also has multiple botanical synonyms for europaea:
There aren’t any named cultivars.
It belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and can be found growing wild in Africa, Europe, and North America. You can grow it both indoors and out, provided you can give it the sun it craves. It’s only hard to USDA Growing Zone 8, so plan on growing it indoors if you live somewhere colder.
Just as with many succulents, this plant prefers sunny climates and lies dormant over winter. In the summer, you will see little, yellow flowers. In the fall, the foliage will change color to red or purple.
S. europaea has a distinct flavor that is reminiscent of the ocean. It’s somewhat salty with a grassy flavor and a firm, crisp texture.
Not only can it add some diversity to your garden, but it will make you feel like you’re near the beach every time you look at it. Each plant can grow up to 16 inches tall.
Planting Sea Beans
Sea beans aren’t the most popular succulent for growing at home – yet – but this could be exactly the reason you should try it. The flavor is unique and tasty, plus the plants have an interesting look to them.
Sea beans are best propagated using seeds. Sow in the autumn about 1/8 inch deep in rich, loose, sandy soil. Keep the soil moist until winter sets in, and add water if you go through a dry period. The soil shouldn’t dry out completely at any point.
In the spring, the seeds should begin to germinate as the days lengthen. Germination rates are generally low, so plant way more seeds than you think you’ll need.
You can also find glasswort seedlings at specialty nurseries in the spring. This is the easiest way of planting sea asparagus. Remove the seedling from its nursery container and place it in amended soil. Keep the soil moist as the plant becomes established.
Growing sea beans in a container is a smart idea because you can control the temperature and light exposure to give it the optimal environment.
Picking a sunny location is at the top of the list when it comes to growing S.europaea. It thrives in sunny, bright spots. Plant in full sun outdoors or next to a south or southwest-facing window indoors. If you don’t have an area inside that receives at least six hours of sun per day, provide supplemental lighting.
This succulent loves warm temperatures and grows best above 50°F. It cannot grow in cold temperatures and is likely to die if the temperatures drop beneath freezing.
If you live in a cold climate and want to grow S.europaea, grow it inside or in a container that you can move indoors during the cold months.
This succulent prefers rich, organic, well-draining soil with a good portion of sand. Most people don’t have the perfect soil, so you’ll likely need to amend yours. Add plenty of well-rotted compost and one part sand to every four parts soil.
Caring for Sea Beans
When it comes to growing sea beans, moisture is your friend and your enemy. The plant prefers regularly wet soil but waterlogged soil will kill it. Constantly wet roots are the enemy of sea beans. That means you’ll likely need to water often if you don’t have regular rain. Don’t let more than the top inch of soil dry out, but make sure that the roots aren’t sitting in water for weeks at a time.
In their natural environment, they might be growing in marshy or wet areas, but that won’t work for your cultivated plants.
You should add about a teaspoon of salt to a gallon of watering when providing moisture. Remember, these plants grow near the sea and they like a little extra salt.
In the late spring and late summer, side-dress with some kelp fertilizer.
Diseases and Pests
Even though S.europaea can be tricky to grow, it doesn’t suffer from common pests and diseases which makes it a lot easier to look after. Of course, there might be the occasional snail in your garden, but this can be easily remedied with the right treatment. Our guide can help.
Harvesting and Using Salicornia Europea
When the leaves are firm and green, cut them as you need them, always leaving about half of the leaves behind. New stems will grow to replace the ones that you cut. Don’t harvest the plant all at once unless you’re done growing glasswort.
Glasswort used to be used as a source of salt for the glassmaking industry. That’s where it got its name. Glassmakers burned the plant to create potash and mixed it with sand to produce glass.
Sailors used it to avoid scurvy and boost their immune systems, and many cultures use it to treat indigestion and diabetes.
These days, most people use it for making delicious dishes.
Eating S. europaea
You can eat this fantastic veggie raw, steamed, or pickled. Traditionally, people also eat it by holding it by the root and stripping the flesh with their teeth. The flesh is salty and crispy, making it a refreshing treat.
You can also use it as a garnish for salads and other meals such as salads or fish dishes. It’s fantastic flash-fried in butter.
Try cooking it in some of these dishes once you’ve harvested your sea beans:
- Pickled sea bean salad
- Pan-fried halibut with sea beans
- Sea bean salad with rocket and asparagus
- Scallops with sea beans
After you’ve tried sea beans in your recipes you won’t know why you weren’t using them all along, they’re that delicious! Plus, sea beans are rich in vitamin B3, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iodine, and potassium.
How to Forage Samphire
Salicornia always grows near oceans, so if you spot something like it in a landlocked area, you’ve got the wrong plant. Late spring and summer are the time to get outside and start looking.
The first thing to look out for when trying to find sea beans is the bright green color. When this beautiful succulent is growing it has a bright green color unless it’s autumn when it starts to turn red or purple. Keep an eye out for fleshy leaves and heavy jointed stems. They kind of look like mini asparagus.
They grow near the ocean in marshes, wet, sandy areas, or estuaries.
Look at some photos online to get a sense of what healthy sea beans look like and be sure to check with an expert if you aren’t sure you’ve currently identified them.