Sunday, 21 December 2014

Herbs by the Sea with Nigella

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition. The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website


with Ian Hemphill from

Have you ever grown a blue flowering annual called Love in the Mist?
In fact this cottage garden plant (Nigella damascenea flowers in blue pink or white.

It’s very pretty and makes just as pretty seed heads after the flowers finish. It’s one of these plants that you don’t have to keep cutting of the flowers because it looks great through all stages of growth.

But there's something else,   a very closely related cousin, has seeds that you can use in cooking.
So can you use the seeds of the cottage garden plant in your cooking as well?
Let’s find out more about this spice.  

Sometimes also called Devil in the bush and Black cumin, the last name  we now know, is completely incorrect.
If you bit into Nigella seed you'll find it's extremely hard with a metallic taste and a back note of mint.
Ian says seed spices have an affiliation with carbohydrates.
They can be used in a wide range of dishes, and are most popular in Indian cuisine.
Nigella seeds are dry roasted in India and used on flatbreads like naan and are particularly good with potatoes and root vegetables.
why not try a light sprinkling of Nigella seeds over steamed rice for an instant flavour enhancer.

They are also one of the five spices that make up panch pora, a spice mixture from Bengal.
Some people use oil from nigella seeds as an antioxidant and for upset stomach.
If you’re wanting to use the seeds from the annual Nigella for cooking, the seeds can be harvested by placing the pods in a paper bag; allow them to dry out completely, then rub the paper bag in your hands to release the black Nigella seeds.
Next cut the corner of the bag and retrieve the seeds with use of a sieve. Make sure that the black nigella seeds are completely dry then store in an airtight container.


This weeks Vegetable Hero is Sea Fennel or CRITHMUM maritimum.
Did you know that this sea fennel is in the same family as carrots?  Apiaceae-that is.
It’s called sea fennel because it can grow in saline soil.
It was Shakespeare, in the Tragedy of King Lear. London. (Act IV, scene VI,) who referred to the collecting of this herb “Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" Meaning that people often lost their lives trying to collect Rock Samphire halfway down cliff faces.
Being a rare herb I was originally not going to mention this however, of late, Australian native herbs are making a resurgence in various retail outlets, from seed, to dried herbs and pickles.
In fact an Australia seed does sell seeds of Sea Fennel, although they call it Rock Samphire in their catalogue.
The word Crithmum: comes from the Greek krithe: barley, because the fruit looks a bit like barleycorn.
Of course maritimum means of the sea.
This plant also goes by the name of SAMPHIRE or Rock Samphire : a corruption of French St. Pieere, (St.Peter) the patron   saint of fishermen, also known as the rock.
Sea Fennel is still common round the coasts of Southern Europe and South and South-West England, Wales and Southern Ireland, but less common in the North and rare in Scotland.
In Australia it is very rare to find Rock Samphire in a (Herb) nursery until recently.

How to Grow Sea Fennel
Sea Fennel or Rock Samphire has been used in different ways for centuries, from the time of Greeks and Romans, as a food - raw, steamed, boiled or pickled, but it was also used as an medicament due to it's therapeutics and aromatic contents. Even today it is widely used in modern cosmetics perfumery and medicine.
Sea Fennel, or Rock Samphire is a perennial, frost hardy and easy to grow.
It grows in its native environment from rocks and shingle and on cliffs to rocky shores, and is the last dry-land plant exposed to strong wind, salt, sea waves, drying sun... it survives extreme weather conditions.

From where it originates you can assume that it likes to grow on sea cliffs, rocks, or sandy well drained soil.
Grow it in full sun in a warm sheltered position.

If you also thought that it likes sandy gritty soil that’s always moist,  you’d be right.

Sea Fennel grows to anywhere between 15 and 45cm in the home garden, depending on local conditions.
Being a halophyte, it can withstand very dry conditions as well, so there’s no reason why it can’t grow anywhere in Australia.
However, Rock Samphire can tolerate being always moist as well as drying out between waterings, but not for long.
It can even tolerate frost.

What it Looks Like?
Rock Samphire is a muted blue or pale aqua- green edible plant which also grows on tidal marshes.
Don’t confuse this plant with Sea Asparagus  or Marsh samphire, also known as glasswort (Salicornia europaea), that grows in coastal areas of Australia during the summer months.

Plants of Rock Samphire, will last you for many years in a pot or in the ground.
For those listeners with clayey soils, I would recommend growing them in pots at first, but seeing as they also grow in marsh land, you may be lucky if you tried it directly in the ground.
Rock Samphire or Sea Fennel is a succulent, smooth or glabrous, multi-branched herb, and woody at the base, naturally growing on rocks on the sea-shore and wettened by the salt spray.
You could say that stems of Sea Fennel are long, fleshy, -green, shining leaflets (being a succulent they’re full of aromatic juice) and lots of clusters or umbles of tiny, yellowish-green flowers, although the flowers aren’t a real feature.
The whole plant is aromatic and has a powerful scent.
Some say it has a strong smell of furniture polish, but I think that’s a bit harsh and think it’s more like aniseed.

When you buy the seeds of Rock Samphire and grow it, you can divide in up into more plants next spring or save the seed and grow more plants that way, to share amongst your friends or gardening group.

When to Sow

Sow seeds in autumn or spring, lightly cover the seed, grow on in pots and plant out in the summer.
Prefers a dry well drained soil in full sun sheltered from cold winds, benefits from a salty soil.
Being a succulent, if you have success with growing Aloe vera, than good, Rock Samphire likes the same growing conditions.
In the 19th century, samphire was being shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to market in London at the end of May each year.

Where do you get it? Should you ever be in Sydney, you can buy the plant at the Botanic Gardens nursery, where it’s been available for a couple of years. they're open Mon-Fri 11am to 5pm.

You can also buy it online and I’ll put on link to that nursery on my website.
By the way, you can also buy it on that auction site ebay in Australia and they promise to express ship the plant to you.
Why is it good for you?
Crithmum maritimum  or Rock Samphire, is a strongly aromatic, salty herb; it contains a volatile oil, pectin, is rich in vitamin C and minerals, has diuretic effects, cleanses toxins and improves digestion, and helps weight loss-possibly because of the diuretic part.
It has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Cooking with Sea Fennel or Rock Samphire.

The easiest way to use Samphire, is to steam the stems, minus the leaves, and dress with lemon juice and some extra virgin olive oil. Use it as a side vegetable. It’s saltiness goes well with seafood and eggs.
Pickled Sea Fennel
Pick the young and green rock samphire beginning of March (in Australia) before it flowers. Break into 2 in. lengths, lay on a dish and sprinkle with dry salt. Leave for 24 hours. Drain, then cook gently until tender in enough vinegar to just cover it, but don't allow it to get soft. :
Plain vinegar is best for this as the samphire has its own spicy flavour. Seal down securely in hot jars
Hand pick sea Fennel before it flowers. Pick of the small leaves and use them in a salad.
Wash the stems.
Cook it in mixture of water and vinegar (70:30) for 15 min until tender.
Leave it to cool and store it in jars filled with diluted vinegar (half water, half vinegar).
You can use it for seasoning salads, or as a cold relish to round meat or fish dish!



with landscape designer Christopher Owen

Show gardens look perfect in every way, but do they last the test of time?
This includes those garden makeovers that you might see on TV.
What are the tricks that garden designers use to make that show garden more immediate?
Can a show garden be directly transposed to your garden or does it need expert advise from the designer.
Let’s find out.


with Hort Journal Magazine editor Karen Smith
Sometimes there’s a species or group of plants that have something going for them all year round.
Not necessarily the same plant, but if you pick the right ones from this group, you’ll have something in flower in every season.
The cultivars have names like Black Knight and Purple Majesty, ripe Raspberry and Mulberry Jam, and even Romantic Rose
Is your mouth watering?
Let’s find out about these plant.
PLAY:Salvias_17th December_ 2014

A mix of salvias, roses, and perennials in the cottage garden of Coriole. photo M Cannon

There’s books written about them, societies, clubs and study groups dedicated to Salvias.

They come in a variety of colours and are generally pretty hardy to all climates around Australia.
Salvias are a large group of garden plants that includes annuals, biennials, perennials, and shrubs.
The perennial salvias brighten up a midsummer garden border. Another common name is sage.

 A relative of the familiar kitchen sage, flowering salvias produce spikes of small, densely packed flowers on sometimes but not always aromatic foliage.
These plants are drought and heat tolerant that can flower from early to late summer in shades of blue, violet, red, pink, salmon and white. The colour variations are endless-the only colour you can't get is yellow.
Plants grow from 30cm to 2 metres tall, depending on the variety.
Use care when choosing salvias, because not all plants are hardy in all regions.
Why not pick a season when you’re garden’s looking a bit bare of colour and pick out from these plants, the colour that you want.

There’s even Salvias that will grow in pots like the orange flowered salvia that Karen mentioned but couldn’t remember. The name is Heatwave Glow, a compact small shrub.

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