(Crambe maritima – Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Sea kale is not a type of kale nor a relative of the seakale beet, which is a type of chard, but it is a member of the Cabbage family. Cultivated, it is a perennial grown for its blanched young shoots. Growing wild, the green version can be found on the seashores of northern Europe, and the Baltic and the Black Seas. In some places, wild sea kale is a legally protected species although not an endangered one. Seakale was harvested from the wild and sold in markets long before it came into cultivation. In Victorian times, it was seen as an aristocrat of the vegetable garden and widely cultivated by armies of gardeners in the enormous kitchen gardens attached to great houses. It was one of the traditional plants taken on voyages as a preventative against scurvy and, thus, its nickname; although there are various such plants referred to by the same name. It has been suggested that it was seakale that Pliny wrote about in the 1st century CE. He referred to one such plant called ‘halmyrides’ which grew on the coast, always stayed green, and was taken as a provision on long sea voyages.
Today it is rarely grown, perhaps because it earned such a reputation in Victorian times as being too labour intensive for the forced blanched type. However, it is easy to grow and quite delicious and an excellent source of Vitamin C if not blanched. Seakale should not be overcooked as this will toughen the stems. It can be used like any green or served on its own. The dark green foliage of the seakale also sports in the summer a profusion of tiny white flowers, which are sweetly scented. After blanching, the seakale often looks like a bizaar twisted sculpture with eight-inch shoots and leaves that are barely open. Sea kale is produced in the third year after planting. Forcing, combined with light exclusion, is usually accomplished by putting an inverted pail or peat over them. The stalks taste similar to kohlrabi, and the small frilly leaves have a strong cabbage flavour. Commercial cultivation is limited almost exclusively to Britain and France as far as food purposes are concerned, but the plant also makes an attractive flower border, forming a compact rosette of large wavy-edged leaves.