Sea Kale / spring / summer / autumn / edible
Young flower buds that make an excellent wild vegetable
Early spring for the shoots, early summer for the broccoli head-like leaves, high summer for the aromatic flowers and peppery seeds.
Often found on shingle beaches and coarse sand, well above the tide line.
In flower on a characteristic shingle beach
Range and Distributions:
Found mostly from Norfolk to Cornwall, and then on the coast facing the Irish Sea.
Never uproot them – these are perennial plants that can be very long lived. Try not to damage the young shoots. They are not common, so take care of the populations you find. Having said that, in a select few places they are incredibly abundant. Be careful you are not about to pick from a SSSI or other conservation designation site. In general stick to the British Botanical Society’s guideline of 1 in 20.
When young, the leaf shoots emerge with a magenta to violet colour, slowly turning green as they grow, but often retaining a purplish colouration to their stems and edges. The leaves have a slightly teal hue, and can get enormous, with a succulent, thick texture and sharp crinkling along their edges. The leaves grow from a central base.
Flower heads emerge as white, highly aromatic clusters of white blossoms.
The seeds are globular.
Could be Confused with:
Very little resembles sea kale in the same habitat.
The young shoots are often prized, and this is the main culinary event. They should be blanched quickly and enjoyed for their full flavour with a minimum of additions. The younger leaves can be used as a vegetable much like supermarket kale, the unbloomed buds as a broccoli substitute and the flowers as a delicious addition to salads. The young seeds are horse-radish flavoured before they get too tough, and are great to pickle providing you leave enough to germinate the next generation. Do not attempt to use the roots.
Young, purple shoots that make delicious vegetables.
A wonderful tonic food that will stimulate circulation and keep pathogens at bay, as well as being full of minerals and nutrients found by the seaside and synthesised by the plant to keep itself healthy in a challenging environment. It is said to be diuretic, although is not widely used in herbal practice.
Extra Points, Tips and Fun Facts:
This plant was once considered a superior food to cabbage and could have become a staple. It was cultivated, but as urbanisation took place its range narrowed and its wide use was forgotten.