Caution: Before you eat any wild coastal plants, make certain that you’ve taken the time to positively identify them.
FOUND NEAR THE OCEAN
SEAWEEDS: Seaweeds are the marine algae that are found on every beach. There are thousands of species of the red, green, and brown algae, and none are poisonous. All can be eaten, assuming they are fresh, and the water is not polluted. Some are best dried, some are great in soup, and a few can be eaten raw.
GLASSWORT: Glasswort (Salicornia spp.) grows in the backbays and salt flats just slightly inland. The plant consists of more or less erect succulent stems, translucent green, which turn red in the fall. The crispness and salty flavor go well when added to salads, and make a good addition to cooked greens and vegetables.
SEA ROCKET: Sea rocket (Cakile edentula and C. maritima) is very common along the high tide areas. It’s a semi-succulent, sprawling member of the mustard family with beautiful little white to lavender flowers with four petals. Sea rocket leaves and tender portions are too strong to eat in salad, but the young, tender portions are great added to stews, clam and fish dishes.
ORACH: Orach (Atriplex spp.) is a mem- ber of the goosefoot family with a pale green color. The leaves look like an arrowhead with backward-pointing barbs. The young orach leaves can be added sparingly to a salad, or cooked with other greens for a green dish or stew.
FOUND WHERE A STREAM FLOWS INTO OCEAN
CATTAIL: Cattail (Typha spp.) is found along the streams that flow into the ocean. In the spring, the tender shoots can be tugged out of the ground and the green outer layers peeled away. The ten- der white inner core is good in salads, tasting like cucumber. You can also cut the young green flower spike, boil it, and eat it like corn on the cob!
WATERCRESS: Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is that ubiquitous member of the mustard family that is found in slow- moving fresh water worldwide. Look for the four-petaled white flowers and the pinnately-divided leaves with round segments. Watercress is a spicy green that is great added to soups, stir-fries, and eaten raw in salads. It will also liven up your MREs.
CURLY DOCK: Curly dock (Rumex crispus) is a European native which sends up a tall seedstock and has long leaves with wavy margins. The little winged seeds turn chocolate brown in the fall. The leaves are rich in vitamin A, and are a good addition to salads. They are ideal stir-fried or added to stews. The seeds can be ground up and added to bread or pancake batter.
NETTLE: Nettle (Urtica dioica) is widespread, often found in the moist areas of streamsides. The tips of the young leaves are delicious when lightly steamed or boiled, tasting like buttered spinach. Even the broth of cooked nettle is delicious as a soup stock or tea.
FOR MORE INFO：
Author Christopher Nyerges has led ethno-botanical field trips since 1974. Contact Nyges or check out his books Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Foraging California, and How to Survive Anywhere at schoolofself-reliance.com.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.