Sea asters are an herb with a crisp, juicy texture and a delicate taste of the ocean. It takes time to pick them, however. Because their flavor varies from plant to plant you’ll have to taste as you go.
Where to Find It
Sea asters grow all over Denmark, and have adapted to very salty conditions with few nutrients. You can find them along the coastlines, where the land is flooded with seawater, especially in salt marshes, and on rocky, sandy beaches. They can't withstand strong waves, however, so they are rarely found in the sea itself. Sea asters typically grow right at the tideline, or between the rocks on the shore.
Salt marshes, beaches, marshlands
When to Find It
You can pick leaves and stems from May until September, but the flowers of the sea aster are only available from June to August.
Leaves and stem: May, June, July, August, September.
How to Spot It
Sea asters branch up and out, which makes them look almost like a large bouquet. Between 50-60 cm tall, they have smooth, green stems that can turn a reddish color over the course of the season. In the plant's second year of life, its daisy-like flowers have yellow disc florets and petals that vary in color from pink to blueish-purple. The leaves are smooth, fleshy, and succulent. They are either oval, thin, and tapered, or shaped like the head of a spear.
How to Pick It
The flavor of sea aster leaves varies a lot and can be unpleasant, which is why you’ll need to sample as you go. The bottom, brightest leaves are the saltiest and often the best-tasting. Pick or clip the leaves carefully, making sure not to uproot the plant. Clip off the flowers.
Flowers: June, August.
On the palate
The leaves have a nice crunch and a crisp, juicy consistency. They taste like sea salt with notes of raw oysters, seaweed, and citrus. Second-year plants, which bear flowers, tend to be more fragrant.
Sea asters have no particular scent.
The leaves of sea asters can tolerate only light heat—they won't hold up if you cook them for too long. You can sauté, steam, or blanch them very quickly. They can also be eaten raw or added to a dish right before serving. They can be pickled and still retain some of their crispness, but you should not boil them with the brine. The flowers should be left uncooked and eaten raw.
Sea asters have an appealing texture and a special, salty-umami flavor that makes them a pleasure to use in the kitchen. The leaves add salt and crunch to most dishes, and are especially welcome with seafood, where they bring out the briny flavors. The large leaves are fleshy and can be treated as a vegetable—flash-sautéed in butter, for example— or as a garnish for a light fish like turbot. Sea asters also pair well with fried and grilled fish, shellfish, lamb, potatoes, cream, fish soup, fermented dairy products and more.
Cover with a moist cloth and store in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. The leaves will keep for five to seven days. The flowers should be used right away.
Sea asters can be replaced with orpine or sea plantain.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.