Sea Aster (Tripolium pannonicum syn. Aster tripolium)

Sea Aster (Tripolium pannonicum syn. Aster tripolium)


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Sea Aster (occasionally called Sea Starwort) is a perennial plant which has adapted grow along the coast, in salt marshes and mud flats, along the banks of tidal rivers and estuaries, and even amongst rocks on exposed seaside cliffs. Previously placed in the genus Aster, a recent taxonomic reshuffle has seen it moved to its own genus, Tripolium, and given the specific epithet pannonicum pannonicum. Nevertheless, the synonym Aster tripolium is still widely used.

A charming little plant, it forms a mound of long, usually smooth but occasionally toothed, tender but succulent leaves, above which the flowers, with golden disks and dishevelled, purple rays, are borne, usually from late July through to September. Sea aster has a distinctive taste, that is difficult to describe, but delicious. It has been described as one of the most flavoursome wild edibles our coastlines have to offer, and is highly sought after by foragers, sometimes served in gourmet restaurants, and occasionally sold (for a premium) by specialist grocers. The leaves are succulent and salty – less so when grown inland, but like Salt Bush (Atriplex halimus), it retains a hint of saltiness – and exceptional simply fried in some butter, and served with black pepper and/or a drop of lemon juice. As they retain their texture upon cooking, they are also excellent in stir fries. It apparently pairs very well with various fish, but this isn’t something we’ve tried. And there are recipes online for pickling them in sweetened white wine vinegar, which we will certainly be trying soon!

Sea Aster is a plant we’ve wanted to grow for years, but we had always assumed salinity was a requirement. Although a halophyte, tolerating high concentrations of salt, it does not appear to require such conditions to survive or thrive. There have been a number of feasibility studies into its potential for domestication, from which we have learned a couple of things. Root growth is quicker under moderately saline conditions, so plants are a little slower to establish in non-saline conditions (that means they’re often unable to compete with other vegetation in inland habitats). And when grown under non-saline conditions, they perform best in a sandy loam based soil. Thankfully, although fussy in some regards, they are very cold hardy – their range extends to the Northern-most parts of Norway – so with some care, this is a plant that can succeed in the garden.

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