When candied with sugar and orange flower water, they are called “eryngoes.” It used to be believed that the candied roots were aphrodisiacs.
Sea Holly is a perennial member of carrot family that grows by the sea. It dies back each winter, then grows back from its roots the following year. It grows from seed, and is hardy down to about 5 F (-15 C.)
The plant grows up to 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60cm) tall. The spiny leaves look a little bit like holly leaves. It produces bluish spiky flowers that are loved by bees. It has a large root system that spreads out to about 6 feet (just under 2 metres.) The plant is useful in helping to hold sand on the beach against erosion.
When cultivated for the shoots, the plants are blanched as they come up in the spring.
The roots should be harvested from plants at least 2 years old. They are cut in the fall or winter.
It is an attractive, and so is sometimes grown in gardens as an ornamental.
The roots can be boiled or roasted.
Sea Holly is native to Europe.
It has been cultivated since mid 1600s.
Colchester in Essex, England, used to be a centre of eryngoes production from the 1600s up until the mid 1800s.
Literature & Lore
“Eringo Roots Preserv’d: Take Eringo-roots fair, and not knotty, one pound, and wash them clean, then set them on the fire, and boil them very tender, peel off their outer-most skin, but break them not as you pare them; then let them lye a while in cold water; after this you must take to every pound of roots three quarters of a pound of clarified Sugar and boil it almost to the height of a Syrrup, and, then put in your roots, but look that they boil but gently together, and stir them as little as may be, for fear of breaking; when they are cold, put them up and keep them.”
— Hannah Woolley. The Gentlewomans Companion. London. 1673.
“Falstaff: My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of ‘Green Sleeves’, hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes; let there come a tempest of provocation.”
— Shakespeare. The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act V Scene V