Orpine is a common garden plant, but you can also find it growing wild in nature. It's a good edible plant to know because of its long harvest season and its appealing crispness.
Where to Find It
Orpine can thrive in many different landscapes. You can find it in forests and ditches, but it also fares well in dry conditions in rocky soil. Because its thick, succulent leaves allow it to retain water in full sun, it can flourish on the dry edges of woods, in salt marshes, or on south-facing slopes and hills where the sun's strong rays desiccate most other plant life.
Salt marshes, deciduous forests, coniferous forests, towns, hedges, roadsides, grasslands.
When to Find It
You can pick the leaves from April until October, and the flowers from June until October.
Leaves: April, May, June, July, August, September, October.
How to Spot It
The orpine you find in nature has often crossbred with cultivated varieties, so it may vary slightly in shape and color. A succulent and fleshy plant that typically grows to be 30-80 cm tall, it is matte green in color with round or teardrop leaves that have soft teeth at the edges. On tall plants, the leaves grow individually up the stem, while on more bushy specimens they huddle in small, rounded bunches. The small flowers grow in large, broccoli-like flower heads that can vary in color from white to purple.
How to Pick It
Pick the leaves being careful not to damage the rest of the plant. Cut or clip off the flowers.
Flowers: June, July, August, September, October.
On the palate
Orpine is juicy, and eating its young leaves feels similar to biting into a crisp apple. Mildly acidic, it tastes of cucumber and asparagus. If you pick orpine near the beach, it will also have a salty flavor. Older plants have a distinct bitterness and their texture is mealy, like beans.
Orpine has no particular scent.
Orpine can tolerate only short, gentle cooking before it loses its juicy crispness. When cooked, the plant takes on a mild flavor of artichoke, with a smoky aftertaste. The young leaves are so fresh and crisp that they're best eaten raw as a garnish or in salads. The old leaves can be blanched or quickly sautéed. Otherwise, add them to hot dishes just before serving. The flowers are best enjoyed raw, but they can be briefly cooked over low heat.
You can use orpine as a crisp and fresh ingredient in places where you'd otherwise use leafy greens. If you'd like to preserve its gentle taste, keep it separate from ingredients with pronounced flavors, and use it in simple preparations where it can stand out. Orpine pairs well with flatfish, shellfish, potatoes, olive oil, cucumber, veal, poultry, and salad. You can pickle the flowers.
Cover the orpine with a moist cloth and store in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where the leaves will stay fresh for up to one week. The flowers won't keep for more than three to five days.
Sea asters can be substituted for orpine.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.