July 4, 2013, Higgins Pass. From here, our plan is to beeline it for the inside passage, via a scattering of small islands on the outside of Price Island, that I’m thinking might provide shelter from the storm, but first things first…
My journal entry: “Sunny, calm a.m. Calling for a northwest gale this evening. Walking onto the beach for the first time, this morning, I called out to Lothar, ‘Hey, I’m surprised there isn’t any sea asparagus around here.’ I walked two more steps—voila, one sea asparagus plant. I walked a bit further, in the seeping realization of a wish come true; next thing I know, I’m immersed in harvesting salad fix’ins. And Lothar, as he realized what was going on, got so enthusiastic about the promise of fresh salad that he promptly abandoned coffee and jumped in beside me.” Our morning discovery had been kept a big secret the night before by the high, high tide when we arrived.
Discovering Sea Asparagus
There’s nothing quite like running out of fresh vegetables on a long trip and then discovering a succulent patch of sea asparagus (Salicornia virginica). Just when I think I’ve figured out the site characteristics that it needs to grow, I find it in some place that seems slightly out of character. I’ve found it by honing in on glimpses of characteristic green from afar (I call this search image), while scouting a potential campsite, and by searching for it just because it feels like there should be some near by (if I just look hard enough). We’ve enjoyed this slightly salty, very crunchy delicacy at many stellar seaside locations between Pleasant Island in Icy Strait, Southeast Alaska and the Broughton Archipelago, south-coast British Columbia.
Sea Asparagus Habitat
This little plant grows in the intertidal zone of salt marshes and on beaches and tidal flats. It’s described as a commonly occurring species but my experience is that we’re lucky to find it within a 200 km paddle from the last patch. It doesn’t like wave action so you’ll only find it in calm waters and sheltered areas. And when you do, you will be living the high life. Sea asparagus is harvested commercially and served in some B.C.’s finest restaurants.
When harvesting, think ecological and social integrity; that is, don’t harm the ecosystem and leave some for others. I cut stems, a few to several centimetres long, with a knife or pinch them off with my finger tips, leaving a major portion of the plant intact. I haven’t encountered any patches suffering from abuse but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are patches in more populated areas along the south-coast where harvesting is no longer sustainable.
Pojar and MacKinnon: A Great Plant Guide
Pojar and MacKinnon’s Plants of Coastal British Columbia including Washington, Oregon and Alaska is a great book to have handy for identifying sea asparagus and other coastal plants (see below).
Warning: If you are keen to try wild foods, it’s a wise rule of thumb to be absolutely sure that the plant you have in hand is indeed edible. Some plants are deadly poisonous; others are harmful in a variety of ways. Take a plant identification course or, otherwise, find someone with solid skills to teach you well.
Finally, if your crew is new to the adventure, you might want to give them a heads up, “do not pee on dinner…please!”
Stay posted for my story about paddling the inside of the outside of Price Island—in a gale!
2 cups fresh sea asparagus (fresh from the beach)
1/2 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried dill
dash of lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
4+ sun dried tomatoes, small dice
1/4 cup pine nuts
Saute sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts in a bit of olive oil, until lightly browned. Cool and then toss with salad and dressing. Enjoy! I also make this salad with cabbage, carrots and red onions, all of which last a very long time (2 weeks plus) if kept cool in the bottom of the boat and in the shade on shore.
2 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp soya sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Serve this one with sesame seeds, instead of sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts.
Mix and match salads and dressing-topping combinations.
Serves: 2 to 3 people
Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon. 1994. Plants of coastal British Columbia including Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC.