Sea beet - Beta vulgaris ssp maritima


Foraging and identification of sea beet (Beta vulgaris ssp maritima)

Edible plant - novice Season - all year Common names Sea beet, wild spinach, sea spinach, wild beetroot, beet


Scientific name meaning: Beta is the Latin name for beets, and could be of Celtic origin. Vulgaris and the subspecies name maritima are also Latin, meaning common and of the sea, respectively

Habitat

Found in coastal areas, on beaches, coastal paths and dune edges.

Overall structure

A dense clump of dark green leaves, with many tall, thin flower stalks emerging later in summer.

Leaves

The dark green leaves are heart-shaped at the base of the plant, becoming more diamond-shaped higher up. They are glossy and hairless.

Stem

The thick, hairless stem is often striped red.

Flower

The flowers of sea beet appear on tall stalks in late summer to early autumn. They appear in little clusters along the upright flower stalk. There are no petals, but five swollen green sepals, giving the appearance of having green petals.

Seeds

The seeds are contained within small, swollen triangular fruits

Possible lookalikes

In coastal habitats, it would be difficult to confuse sea beet with anything poisonous. It could be mistaken for one of the oraches, however, their leaves are not glossy and are more angular - they are also edible. Docks and horseradish (pictured) could also be confused, but sea beet's leaves are very smooth, glossier, and diamond or heart-shaped.


Use as a food The leaves are the edible part and can be collected all year. However, they are sweeter and softer in spring. They can be eaten raw (see hazards), pickled or cooked. ​ Hazards When collecting from shorelines, be aware of any pollution such as sewage outlets. Also, most of the UK coastline is designated SSSI, so ensure you are allowed or have permission to forage.


Use in herbal medicine and medicine Has been used historically in folk medicine to treat tumours, prevent hair loss, and to treat anaemia If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner Other uses None known ​ Importance to other species A food source of gastropods and other insect herbivores.


Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!