Salicornia is a genus of succulent, halophyte (salt tolerant) flowering plants in the family Amaranthaceae that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves. Salicornia species are native to North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia.
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Glasswort, saltwort, samphire [Latin sal, salt, cornu, horn, in reference to the appearance of the plant and its association with saline habitats]
Herbs, annual, fleshy, glabrous. Stems prostrate to erect, simple to many-branched, apparently jointed and fleshy when young, becoming not jointed and somewhat woody with age. Leaves opposite, connate basally, sessile, decurrent portions forming fleshy segments enclosing stem, fleshy blade reduced to fleshy scales, margins entire, narrow, scarious. Inflorescences spikes, terminal on each stem, apparently jointed, each joint (fertile segment) consisting of 2 axillary, opposite, usually 3-flowered cymes embedded in and adherent to fleshy tissue of distal internode flowers in each cyme arranged in triangle, the 2 lateral flowers meeting beneath central flower, flowers separated by persistent flaps of internodal tissue. Flowers usually bisexual, ± radially symmetric perianth segments persistent in fruit, usually 3, connate except for extreme tips, fleshy stamens (0-)1-2 styles 2. Fruits utriclelike pericarp membranous. Seeds vertical, ellipsoid seed coat yellowish brown, thin, membranous, hairy perisperm absent. x = 9.
Species ca. 10 (4 in the flora): Northern Hemisphere, s Africa.
Salicornia is occasionally utilized as a vegetable in Europe, especially the tetraploid species. The seeds are rich in oils and experimental trials have been undertaken in the southwestern United States to harvest tetraploid species, especially S. bigelovii, on a large scale as a commercial source of vegetable oils.
Because of the succulence of the plants and the highly reduced morphology, it has been difficult to develop a satisfactory taxonomy of the genus. Dried specimens often cannot be determined with certainty, and are of little use in taxonomic studies owing to the loss of characteristics on drying. Salicornia is also difficult to cultivate satisfactorily because the plants appear to require a limited amount of salt and, the tetraploids in particular, occasional submersion in water, although they do not grow well in permanently waterlogged soils.
R. L. Jefferies and L. D. Gottlieb (1982) and S. L. Wolff and R. L. Jefferies (1987, 1987b), using isozyme data, have shown that the diploid taxa are largely homozygous inbreeding lines. There is for the most part good correlation between morphological and isozyme data, but it must be emphasized that the geographical coverage and the number of populations studied are limited.
The Salicornia species are small annual herbs. They grow prostrate to erect, their simple or branched stems are succulent, hairless, and appear to be jointed. The opposite leaves are strongly reduced to small fleshy scales with a narrow dry margin, hairless, unstalked and united at the base, thus enclosing and forming a succulent sheath around the stem, which gives it the appearance of being composed of jointed segments.  : 522  Many species are green, but their foliage turns red in autumn. Older stems may be somewhat woody basally.
All stems terminate in spike-like apparently jointed inflorescences. Each joint consists of two opposite minute bracts with an (1-) 3-flowered cyme tightly embedded in cavities of the main axis and partly hidden by the bracts. The flowers are arranged in a triangle, both lateral flowers beneath the central flower. The hermaphrodite flowers are more or less radially symmetric, with a perianth of three fleshy tepals united nearly to the apex. There are 1-2 stamens and an ovary with two stigmas. 
The perianth is persistent in fruit. The fruit wall (pericarp) is membranous. The vertical seed is ellipsoid, with yellowish brown, membranous, hairy seed coat. The seed contains no perisperm (feeding tissue). 
Like most members of the subfamily Salicornioideae, Salicornia species use the C3 carbon fixation pathway to take in carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere. 
The species of Salicornia are widely distributed over the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa, ranging from the subtropics to subarctic regions. There is one species present in New Zealand  but the genus is absent from South America and Australia. 
They grow in coastal salt marshes and in inland salty habitats like shores of salt lakes.  Salicornia species are halophytes and can generally tolerate immersion in salt water (hygrohalophytes).
Salicornia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Coleophora case-bearers C. atriplicis and C. salicorniae (the latter feeds exclusively on Salicornia spp.).
The genus probably originated during the Miocene in the region between the Mediterranean basin and Central Asia. Evolving from within the perennial and frost-sensitive genus Sarcocornia, the annual, strongly inbreeding and frost-tolerant Salicornia diversified during the late Pliocene to early Pleistocene. By events of intercontinental dispersals, they reached southern Africa twice, North America at least three times. Two tetraploid lineages expanded rapidly, with the ability to colonize lower belts of the saltmarshes than their diploid relatives. Inbreeding and geographical isolation led to a large number of reproductive isolated species that are only weakly differentiated. 
The genus Salicornia was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus.  Salicornia europaea was selected as the type species. 
The taxonomic classification of this genus is extremely difficult (and has been called a "taxonomic nightmare"), determination of species seems almost impossible for non-specialists. The reasons for those difficulties are the reduced habit with weak morphological differentiation, and high phenotypic variability. As the succulent plants lose their characteristics while drying, herbarium specimens often cannot be determined with certainty and are less suited for taxonomic studies. 
Based on molecular genetic research (Kadereit et al. 2007, 2012),   Salicornia comprises the following species:
Salicornia europaea is edible, either cooked or raw,  as are S. rubra and S. depressa.  In England, S. europaea is one of several plants known as samphire (see also Rock samphire) the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, [herbe de] Saint-Pierre, which means "St. Peter's herb". 
Samphire is usually cooked, either steamed or microwaved, and then coated in butter or olive oil. Due to its high salt content, it must be cooked without any salt added, in plenty of water. It has a hard, stringy core, and after cooking, the edible flesh is pulled off from the core. This flesh, after cooking, resembles seaweed in color, and the flavor and texture are like young spinach stems or asparagus. Samphire is often used as a suitably maritime accompaniment to fish or seafood.
In Hawai'i, where it is known as sea asparagus, it is often blanched and used as a topping for salads or accompaniment for fish.  
In addition to S. europaea, the seeds of S. bigelovii yield an edible oil. S. bigelovii's edibility is compromised somewhat because it contains saponins, which are toxic under certain conditions. 
Umari keerai is cooked and eaten or pickled. It is also used as fodder for cattle, sheep and goats.  In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka, it is used to feed donkeys.
On the east coast of Canada, the plant is known as samphire greens and is a local delicacy. In Southeast Alaska, it is known as beach asparagus. In Nova Scotia, Canada, they are known as crow's foot greens. In British Columbia, Canada, they are known as sea asparagus.  In the United States, they are known as sea beans when used for culinary purposes. Other names include sea green bean, sea pickle, and marsh samphire. 
In India, researchers at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute developed a process to yield culinary salt from Salicornia brachiata. The resulting product is known as vegetable salt and sold under the brand name Saloni. 
In South Korea, Phyto Corporation has developed a technology of extracting low-sodium salt from Salicornia europaea, a salt-accumulating plant. The company claims the naturally-derived plant salt is effective in treating high blood pressure and fatty liver disease  by reducing sodium intake.  The company has also developed a desalted Salicornia powder containing antioxidative and antithrombus polyphenols, claimed to be effective in treating obesity and arteriosclerosis,  as well as providing a means to help resolve global food shortages. 
Salicornia's fleshy stems are bitter yet savory. Just the thing to accompany seafood dishes, fish and soups. In general, the sea asparagus excels in fresh summer recipes, raw in salads, steamed or lightly pan-fried, as a light side dish to meat dishes.
Lovers of salicornia should think about preserving the vegetable in vinegar or oil to ensure a steady supply year round. Pickled salicornia is a great accompaniment to a charcuterie plate, cheeses and sausages.
It is even a great match for eggs, egg-based pastas and even risotto. Just take a cue from acclaimed French chef Inaki Aizpitarte who developed a creamy green risotto flavored with salicornia.
Raw salicornia is a great way to enrich sandwiches or canapés so it's definitely worth a try.
The golden rule when cooking salicornia? Don't use an abundant amount of salt or you'll risk your dish being too salty. Taste as you go.