With the summer approaching and warmer weather already here, shorelines like Point Pinole, Albany Bulb, and Shimada Friendship Park become great options for outdoor activity and recreation. If you find yourself at a shoreline in the Bay area, you may find this versatile plant lining the shorezone! The pickleweed, sea bean, sea asparagus, or Salicornia pacifica is a perennial herb native to northern, central, and southern california. While native to California, it can occasionally be found in Alaska and on the East coast near the Great Lakes. Interestingly enough, despite the name, it is actually not a weed! It is a land-growing succulent plant that populates salty shoreline environments. It belongs to the Goosefoot family, which actually includes plants like spinach and sugar beets. Since the pickleweed is an herb, it can be eaten! In the summertime, it is harvested for its green tips, which make a great addition to a salad, or steamed with other vegetables. Its high salt content makes it desirable in cooking. Check below for a tasty salad recipe using pickleweed as the main component! Pickleweed can be found at your local Whole foods or Berkeley Bowl for around $5/lb or naturally occurring at local marshes and wetlands around the Bay Area! Unfortunately, the East Bay Regional Parks and many local and city-owned prohibit picking plants at their parks, or may have water too polluted to eat from. Your best option is likely the farmers markets or checking with your local park regulations and rangers.
Its typical habitat includes inter-tidal salt marshes and in salt flats, and seasonally saline wetlands. The pickleweed plant has a very high salt tolerance which allows it to thrive in highly salty environments, where many other organisms cannot. It stores the salt in reserves, rather than secreting it like many other plants. It can be recognized by its numerous branches, all divided into segments. Throughout the summertime, the pickleweed maintains a light green color, while In the fall, the branches turn bright red. They have been known to go dormant in the winter time. Its flower is more inconspicuous, usually green and white, very small, and growing off of the segments. The flowers look more like flecks than true flowers without a closer look. The pickleweed is valuable to salty shoreline environments not only because it is a food source for humans, but also because it helps create ecosystems that are home to many wetland, and salt marsh creatures! Among these creatures are the snowy egret, and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.
Sea Bean (Pickleweed) Salad
1 pound sea beans/pickleweed
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, use high quality oil here
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/4 cup crumbled feta or Mexican cotija cheese
Lemon or lime juice to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the sea beans for 1 minute. Transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool. Let them rest a few minutes. Lay out a tea towel or other cloth towel. Pick through the sea beans to remove any stray bits of seaweed, and to remove any discolored bits or woody bottoms. Use only the top 2-5 inches of the plant. Lay the cleaned sea beans on the towel to dry.
Pat the sea beans dry and toss with everything but the lemon juice. Add lemon juice until the salad is as tangy as you like it. Serve cold or at room temperature. This will keep in the fridge for a couple days.