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Sailors' Scurvy Grass plants


Cochlearia officianalis, Hardy annual - young plants sometimes available

Not actually a grass at all, but the famous weed sailors found to eat on the top of sea cliffs

that cured their scurvy – a disease plaguing early seafarers who did not understand the need for Vitamin C.

It has round leaves and white flowers similar to Alyssum, spreading across the ground. Likes salty sea breezes!

Adds historical interest to a herb garden and can be eaten in salads.


Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia species; also called spoonwort) is a genus of about 30 species of annual and perennial herbs in the cabbage family Brassicaceae. They are widely distributed in temperate and arctic areas of the northern hemisphere, most commonly found in coastal regions, on cliff-tops and salt marshes where their high tolerance of salt enables them to avoid competition from larger, but less salt-tolerant plants; they also occur in alpinehabitats in mountains and tundra.

They form low, rounded or creeping plants, typically 5–20 cm tall. The leaves are smoothly rounded, roughly spoon-shaped (the scientific name Cochlearia derives from the Latinized form, cocleare, of the Greek κοχλιάριον, kokhliárion, a spoon; this a diminutive of κόχλος, kókhlos, seashell), or in some species, lobed; typically 1–5 cm long, and with a fleshy texture. The flowers are white with four petals and are borne in short racemes.


Scurvy-grass and roads

The advent of modern fast roads treated with salt in winter for ice clearance has resulted in the colonisation by scurvy-grass of many inland areas where it formerly did not occur. The scurvy-grass seeds become trapped on car wheels, transported often for a considerable distance, and then washed off, to grow in the salt-rich soil at the side of the road where other plants cannot survive. For the rapid colonisation of a British inland county between 1989–2002, see Cochlearia danica in Worcestershire.[12]

  • Cochlearia officinalis on Bear IslandNorway

  • 19th century illustration of Cochlearia officinalis

  • "Scurvy-grass" from The Book of Health, 1898, by Henry Munson Lyman


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