Beach plantain is a familiar ingredient in Danish cooking. It's long been used in soup paired with plantain rolls, and in Southern Jutland it takes the place of kale in “grønlangkål,” a classic Danish dish.
Where to Find It
Beach plantain can be found all over Denmark, where it has adapted to salty environments near the beach. You will often find it in salt marshes, along rocky beaches, and in areas where the beach meets the rest of the landscape. You can also find it further inland along roads that are salted.
Beaches, salt marshes, marshlands.
When to Find It
Collect young leaves from April to June—after that, the leaves will often be too fibrous and bitter.
Leaves: April, May, June.
How to Spot It
Beach plantains have long, narrow, fleshy leaves that resemble oversized blades of grass. A groove runs down along the top of the leaf. The plant can grow to be anywhere from 5- to 50 cm tall, and its leaves cluster in a rosette at is base, so that the plant resembles a tightly bound bouquet sticking up from the ground. Its flowers, which top tall, skinny stems that climb out from the clumps of leaves, are 5 to 6 cm long, and grow densely on the stamen like grass or corn.
How to Pick It
The taste of beach plantains varies dramatically from plant to plant—even those growing next to each other—so you’ll have to taste as you go. The plants growing nearest the sea are often the tastiest. Pick the leaves one by one, so you don't accidentally uproot the plant and focus on the young, smaller ones. Larger leaves are edible, but they are fibrous and more bitter.
On the palate
Beach plantains have a light and succulent crunch that leaves a sensation of fattiness in the mouth. Their briny flavor is laced with notes of nuts and fresh grass, and undercut by a slight bitterness that intensifies with age.
Sea plantains have no particular scent.
Young beach plantain leaves can be eaten raw in salads or as a garnish. When cooked, their flavor changes and becomes more cabbage-y. The young leaves of the beach plantain can tolerate light heat if they’re quickly balanced, sautéed or fried like tempura. Older leaves, on the other hand, can withstand the longer, more intense cooking required for dishes like casseroles, soups, and stews, and will even lose some of their bitterness. Since the older leaves are quite fibrous, you should chop them finely before cooking.
Beach plantains can be used raw to add crisp salinity, but you can also prepare the leaves like you would spinach, cabbage, or other leafy greens. Raw or lightly cooked, the leaves pair well with fish or shellfish, and brighten salads and sandwiches. Their flavor is pleasing on its own in simple dishes, but also marries well with stronger seasonings like soy sauce or ginger. Try using the leaves in a curry, risotto, or steamed Asian dish. Sea plantains also work well with fermented dairy products, goat cheese, chicken, and anything from the sea.
Cover the beach plantains with a moist cloth and store in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. The leaves will keep for five to seven days. You can steam sea plantains and squeeze the leaves into balls to keep in the freezer and thaw them out as needed throughout the winter.
Beach plantains can be replaced with sea asters.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.