The Magic of Seaweed.
By Maria Kennedy
What comes to mind when you think of seaweed?
Do you think of slimy, smelly slightly scary stuff that wraps around your legs and tries to pull you under? Or tentacles that brush off your arm and make you think of being stung, crushed or even eaten?….or maybe that was just me!!
Well, it’s time to revise that mental picture and begin to visualize seaweed in a whole new light. Seaweed, or sea vegetables, are the individual and multifarious plants that inhabit our glorious underwater garden. It is a garden that doesn’t need to be weeded, or watered (obviously). We don’t have to sow or plant it, mulch or compost it, and it isn’t terribly vulnerable to the weather. Like terrestrial plants, seaweeds have seasonal cycles. They flower, seed, die back and come again.
There are said to be more than 10,000 edible seaweeds, but yet as a food, seaweed is very underused in the West. It is used extensively in countries such as Japan, China and Korea and their diets have historically shown fewer instances of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases. Seaweed eaters have a decreased risk of breast and colon cancer as well as heart disease.
Seaweed is a super food with powerful health benefits. Sea vegetables have the broadest range of minerals of any food and are an excellent source of b vitamins, vitamin c, and lignans, which have cancer protective properties, as well as protein and iodine. Iodine is a really important component of the thyroid hormones, which are essential to human life.
Are you convinced yet?
There is a tradition of seaweed usage in Ireland that goes back to Monastic times. Archeologists have established the earliest known culinary use of seaweeds to be in Chile 14,500 years ago. So it’s not a new thing then….
Dulse and carrageen have been traditionally used in Irish kitchens, but not always to everyone’s taste. The wonderful thing now is that you can use seaweed in your cooking, or eat it raw, and it can be deliciously moreish. There are some excellent books on the market, which will help you become an expert.
“Extreme Greens” by our very own Sally McKenna of Mckenna’s Irish Food Guide, is a beautifully constructed book full of valuable seaweed information and recipes, and Prannie Rhatigan’s “Irish Sea weed Kitchen”, which covers everything you need to know about identifying, harvesting, and cooking with seaweed in a delightfully anecdotal way.
Seaweed is also an amazing detox ingredient and skin emollient. It makes a nourishing top dressing for your garden plants and can be used to make a ”tea” to feed your growing plants at this time of year.
And what does this all have to do with kayaking?
We do a very special “Secrets of Seaweed” half or full day kayaking outing, where we look at some of the different types, harvest them sustainably and sample/cook with them.
We also do these trips as a seashore walk for groups more interested in seaweed than kayaking!
These trips are on designated dates throughout the season and you can find out about them by phoning the office at 028 21058.
If you are going out harvesting seaweed there are a few things you should think about…
Hot Seaweed Tips
Always check the tide, weather and sea conditions before you go out.
Low spring tides are the best for giving you the greatest variety of seaweeds.
Avoid leaning out too much or you will end up in the sea (I know from experience!)
Make sure you are harvesting beyond habitations, where there is a good flow of water. Seaweed soaks up everything like a sponge, so you want to ensure that it is growing in clean, pure seawater.
To harvest sustainably, never pull the seaweed from the rocks, as it will pull the “holdfast” off, which connects the plant to the rock, and the plant will die. Instead, cut no more than the top third of the plant away with a sharp knife, so that the plant can keep growing.