Media and text by Scott Brylinski
Beach asparagus (Salicornia pacifica) is arguably the single best wild green we have in our area. It is delicious, tender, abundant, easy to identify and gather in quantity, has no poisonous look alikes, and lends itself to a variety of recipes and preparation methods. Unlike most wild greens which are at their best in late May/early June, beach asparagus peaks in midsummer (now), and stays good through the summer. It slowly starts to degrade over the month of August.
My personal preference as a preparation method is in salads. But it also goes great in stir fries, scrambled eggs, and just about anything you might put a cooked vegetable in, including steamed up fresh and served with butter or mayonnaise. It can be pickled, canned, frozen, added to homemade salsa, or mixed in with fish salads. Pretty much any dish you might add a fresh vegetable to seems to be improved with beach asparagus!
Unlike most of our wild greens, which are widely, if not uniformly, found on beaches or forest throughout the northern panhandle, beach asparagus only grows in the upper intertidal area on shallow gradient beaches which are protected and non-rocky. It is particularly abundant around the Magoun Islands and in Krestof Sound near Sitka. Like any plant, it is vulnerable to over gathering. Be especially observant as to whether you are gathering in an area already harvested. If yes, move your location.
Use cutting tool to gather; a sharp knife or ulu works particularly well. Grab a small handful of stems with your fingers, and cut an inch above the base. (See video link below) This leaves the plant living, and is also less work to clean than if you were to pull up the whole plant -Don’t do that!
Beach asparagus often grows in patches that are nearly monocultures, making for efficient quantity gathering. The few other plants that typically grow in its midst are either edibles, like goosetongue or sea milkwort (Glaux maritima, not particularly tasty) or, at worst, non-toxic (sand spurry, or Spergularia sp., a thin stemmed wispy plant that occurs with beach asparagus).