Sea fennel has a long history with humans, both as food and medicine. The Ancient Greeks used it for liver issues, Shakespeare mentioned it in King Lear and now you can enjoy it’s remarkable rejuvenation properties to add natural glow to your skin. Read on for 5 easy ways to improve your health and skin with sea fennel.
So what is Sea Fennel?
Sea fennel is an edible plant part of the carrot family and called Crithmum Maritimum in Latin. It’s known in culinary circles as Rock samphire or Samphire. Named after “Saint Pierre” (Saint Peter), the patron saint of fishermen as it grows on rocky, salt-sprayed cliffs and along beaches. It is sometimes called sea asparagus, sea fennel, or sea pickle but belongs to the same plant family as parsley and celery.
It’s been used since ancient times for both food and medicine.
It’s a hardy plant that grows on rocky beaches and windswept cliffs of south western England, Ireland, Europe and around the Meditteranean .
It has fleshy green leaves and yellow/green flowers. Fed by the silica in the sand and the immense amounts of nutrients carried by ocean waters and breeze, sea fennel is crammed with skin-loving antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. You’ll be aware of the benefits of sea-minerals in cosmetics.
English herbalist, Culpeper, describes the leaves as having a pleasant, hot and spicy taste. While in King Lear, Shakespeare referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from sea cliffs. It was sold in London as Crest marine and now the plants are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Is sea fennel the same as sweet fennel?
No! They are two different plants. One is a common veggie patch plant that grows inland. The other only grows wild on the coastline. While both are used in recipes, sweet fennel (often just called fennel) is a more common plant and what is used in detox smoothies and soups.
Sweet fennel grows in kitchen gardens around the world and you eat the bulb (it’s then called celeraic) or feathery leaves or crunchy stalks.
There is an essential oil of Sweet Fennel called Foeniculum Vulgare, and it’s not suitable for use during pregnancy, lactation, endometriosis, estrogen-dependent cancers or on children under 5 due to its hormonal effect.
Sweet fennel essential oil contains trans-anethole, limonene, eugenol, estragole, fenchone, α-pinene, camphene, β-pinene, β-myrcene, α-phellandrene, β-ocimene Z, β-ocimene, α-fenchyl acetate, β-fenchyl acetate, cis-anethole, α-copaene, β-farnesene and germacrene-D.
Sea fennel only grows along the coast in a narrow geographic area. The leaves are packed with lashings of vitamins ( A, C, E and K), carotenoids, flavonoids, antioxidants and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids (that protect against coronary heart diseases), water-soluble compounds as sugars, organic acids and many minerals including iodine. It also contains a phenolic compounds called chlorogenic acid, which is the same acid found in green coffee beans that helps regulate blood sugar levels and boost metabolism to maintain a healthy weight.
Volatile compounds inside samphire include sabinene, γ-terpinene, thymol methyl ether, dillapiol, α-pinen, p-cymol, apiole, cis-ß-ocimene and terpinen-4-ol
Are sea buckthorn and sea fennel the same thing?
No, two different plants. Sea buckthorn is a thorny bush or shrub that produces tart-flavoured berries. Although it may grow on a windswept coast, it does not grow on the cliff edges and beach pebbles.
The oil extracted from sea buckthorn berries is a vivid orange-yellow colour that stains linen and skin. However it’s this colour that clues you in on the nutrients inside: provitamin A, vitamins A, C, D, E, F, K, P, and B complex vitamins (B1, B2, B6), omega threes, fatty acids, flavonoids, carotenoids, phospholipids, minerals (copper, zinc, iron, selenium,) sugars, amino acids and tannins.
Sea fennel in contrast, evaporates as it is volatile and does not stain linen or your skin. You can see the seeds of sea fennel below – they are brown, not orange!
5 ways to use sea fennel or samphire
- Eat the leaves raw! They’re so nutritious and antimicrobial, that sailors ate them to prevent scurvy.
- Add them to salads – eg Greek salad, tomato or potato salad. They’re a natural digestive tonic.
- You can also pickle samphire in a brine solution.
- Add them to cooked meals for additional flavour and enzymes- excellent with fish dishes.
- Use it on your skin for cellular regeneration, boost collagen or to reduce brown spots.
How sea fennel contributes to glowing skin
Marine extracts became big news when La Mer started using them in their cosmetics. Sea fennel is a marine herb with incredible skin-renewing and regenerative properties.
Sea fennel is packed with free radical scavengers that protect and regenerate ageing skin, so is well worth including in your skincare routine – a weekly face mask is an easy and economical way to enjoy the skin renewing benefits. (Apply the mask while doing laundry or watching Netflix. Some masks, like Glow’s version, are transparent so you can even wear them on a Zoom call!)
When combined in your facial routine, this powerful cocktail of antioxidants helps smooth and brighten your skin tone:
- skin brightening vitamin C protects against environmental pollution and UV while strengthening your skin’s epidermis layer, preventing moisture loss.
- strengthening vitamin E which helps dull or dry skin return to a fresh glowy lustre
- vitamin A, a natural form of retinol, soothes acne spots while boosting collagen. It also unclogs pores and evens out skin tone and hyper-pigmentation
- because sea fennel peptides are so small they penetrate and calm your skin, to reduce redness, blemishes and wrinkles.
In essence, sea fennel energizes and rejuvenates your skin, increasing production of collagen and elastin and improving your skin’s natural radiance.
This is why I use it in a special face mask
Sea fennel extract vs retinol?
Yes, it’s the newest natural alternative to retinol. Because retinoids are synthetic versions of Vitamin A, they ‘re not recognised by the body because synthetics lack the natural counterparts and synergists that normally accompany Vitamin A, that help activate it in your skin.
Synthetic retinoids are not bio available in your skin, so your body is unable to use them.
Sea Fennel, however, contains all the bioavailable and synergistic components that allow your skin to benefit from the vitamins, minerals and peptides within it. It self-activates in your skin, without irritation or down time.
Glow Skincare make a Super Hydrating Mask with skin-loving Sea Fennel.
Questions and Answers:
What does sea fennel smell like?
The fresh whole plant has a delicious fresh scent. It smells clean. Like the smell of the ocean (minus any fish!)
So it’s said to be an ocean scented essential oil that smells like the beach. Think salty air and bitter.
This makes sense as it’s a coastal plant. And others say it smells like carrots, so I guess it depends of your olfactory experience. And this variation in perception makes sense. Scent always has been subjective but many people recovering from Covid have found that what were once favourite smells, like coffee, suddenly smell foul, even months after they recover from the illness.
What does rock samphire taste like?
Mmm it’s yummy and clean, and very subtle. I’d describe it in one word as : Carrots.
Raw sea fennel is crunchy like raw carrots too. It’s a delicious fresh, lemony version of carrots. With a salty kick, which makes sense as sea fennel lives in the salty seaside air.
Can you use sea fennel essential oil if you have rosacea?
If you have rosacea, then sea fennel is one of the new natural actives you can use.
Because sea fennel is a natural retinoid there won’t be the side effects of synthetic vitamin A.
Sea fennel is one of the skin-calming essential oils and can be used in skincare products designed for rosacea and sensitive skins.
What else is sea fennel essential oil good for?
So apart from the skincare options, you can also use sea fennel to improve your digestive health if you’ve got a sluggish metabolism. If you suffer from bloating, indigestion or gas, a gentle DIY stomach massage done in a clockwise (clock like) direction can help.
Ask your Aromatherapist to create you a digestive blend with sea fennel.
You can also apply the blend over your liver area to help your body detox and cleanse. The liver is responsible for many functions, and when it is impaired your skin health and immunity suffer.
Is sea fennel good for hair?
Yes! Because sea fennel is so rich in vitamin C, amino acids and other minerals, eating it or applying it to your scalp can help your hair grow better. The iodine can help an underactive thyroid which in turn affects hair health.
(I wrote an article about hair loss in menopause here)