This seaweed foraging guide will cover everything you need to know about seaweed. We’ll start by talking about seaweed in general, including what it is and how seaweeds are classified. Then we’ll talk about the different types of edible seaweeds out there and give a few recipes that use seaweed as an ingredient. Finally, we’ll go over some of the health benefits of eating seaweed and provide some information on how to dry it so you can store your harvest!
What really is Seaweed?
Most seaweed is a marine algae and not a plant. They are generally grouped together as seaweeds, but there are actually three main groups of seaweeds: brown seaweeds (kelp), red seaweeds, and green seaweeds.
Brown seaweed like kelp or Nori seaweed are found in cold seawaters, like those in the northern hemisphere. They can grow to nearly 300 feet long and four inches wide!
Green seaweeds or green algae live mostly in warm seawater areas of the world, such as southern Pacific or Caribbean waters. Their colours vary from yellow-green to dark greenish brown and they may have a branchy appearance.
Red seaweed species include dulse (reddish-purple) that is only found on North Atlantic shores or Porphyra norvegica which has vivid pink pigments for protection against sunburns and higher temperatures than other seaweeds.
Seaweed Health Benefits
Seaweed is one of the most nutritious and healthiest foods on the planet. It’s good food for people who have delicate stomachs or those of us that want to make healthier choices in our diet without sacrificing taste.
Here are some benefits from eating seaweed:
– It has high levels of protein
– One cup of seaweed contains as much vitamin C as one orange
– Seaweeds contain iodine which helps regulate hormones
– They’re often rich in calcium so they can help with osteoporosis prevention and give your bones strength to fight off infection (calcium deficiency contributes greatly to fungal infections).
The nutrients found in seaweed, such as omega fatty acids which are good for the heart, saponins which are used for reducing cholesterol levels and treating hypertension and carotenoids which help to protect the body from the effects of free radicals.
It’s also been found that seaweed can lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production in the human vascular system.
Trying to eat healthier? Adding seaweed can offer a nutritional boost. You’ll be doing yourself (or someone else) a favour!
How to Forage Seaweed
When foraging seaweed, you’ll want to be knowledgeable about the types of seaweeds that grow in your region. For example, if you live near a coastline then it is likely that there will be many species of edible seaweed available for harvests such as dulse and sea lettuce.
If you are inland or on an ocean coast without access to shoreline plants, then exploring more freshwater sources may provide opportunities to find unfamiliar varieties like kelp.
The first step when collecting water plants is always making sure they are not poisonous! Seek guidance from someone who knows which ones can harm humans before collecting them yourself.
Preparing for edible plants requires gathering knowledge of the appropriate time to harvest.
When to collect Seaweed
The seaweed harvesting season is from October to June. To take full advantage of the season, seaweed should be harvested in the late spring or summer months.
Seaweeds can also be collected in winter, but it’s best to wait until after a storm has washed seaweed up onto shorelines and beaches where they grow naturally. Storms may even bring seaweed all the way into inland waterways like riverside estuaries.
Are all seaweeds edible?
For beginner foragers, seaweed is one of the safest edible plants to forage. Seaweeds are edible and you can eat most of the seaweed that is found on the shoreline, with a few exceptions. Certain types of algae are toxic so it’s important to be able to identify them if you don’t know what they are.
The types of edible seaweed that will grow in abundance at low tide lines or areas where freshwater meets saltwater include:
– Kombu – long strands used as an edible thickener in Japanese cuisine;
– Nori (laver) – sheets wrapped around sushi rolls
– Wakame – dried shredded flakes added into miso soup or salads
– Dulse – thin red strips sold as “sea vegetables”
– Carrageen – a type of edible seaweed that is used to make Jell-O
Commonly Eaten Seaweeds
Seaweeds are a great source of essential minerals. They’re rich in iron and an excellent means of getting your daily dose of iodine. The three most commonly eaten types are Nori, Kombu, Wakame.
Nori is eaten in the form of edible seaweed wrappers around sushi. It’s also used to wrap rice balls and is a popular addition to salads, soups and tofu dishes in Japanese cuisine. It can be used to make tasty crispy seaweed snacks as well.
Kombu seaweed can be eaten shaved into thin strips or cut up finely for cooking as it has a subtle taste that goes well with other foods. Kelp broth – made from simmering kombu in water – is commonly enjoyed by people who are recovering from an illness because it boosts their immune system.
Wakame doesn’t need much preparation before eating but both Nori and Kombu should be cooked thoroughly before consumption if they’re intended for use as edible food wraps.
Irish moss is another name for the commonly used carrageen. A lot of people are now using Irish moss to make a jelly like drink that is great for your gut.
The best seaweed or green algae comes from companies who practice sustainable seaweed farming so when buying nori sheets or any edible species around the world be sure to choose the right product.
Seaweed Eating Countries
Seaweed foraging is popular in Norway, Ireland, France, the UK, and the Hawaiian Islands.True, seaweeds are eaten all over Asia but the most popular consumption is in Eastern countries like Japan, China and Korea.
In many cultures, seaweed has been a major part of their diet since ancient times. The Japanese have used seaweed in cooking for centuries with fresh green laver being found at street markets where it was sold to passers-by by women wearing traditional happi coats (a heavy outer garment made from cotton).
In Europe, it seems that seaweed eating became less common during more recent history although there were still areas such as Wales and Brittany which retained some tradition due to the remoteness of these communities.
Seaweed in The UK
When it comes to edible seaweed, UK and Ireland food lovers have many options to choose from. There are a few edible seaweeds that can be found all over the UK and Ireland, but if you want to start your foraging adventure with an edible type of seaweed, try out these types:
Rockweed: this is a common variety of edible seaweed that can be eaten raw or cooked. It has the texture of spinach when it is young but becomes more leathery as it ages. The best time to eat edible rockweed foraged from the UK coastline would probably be during springtime – which is its prime season throughout most parts of Ireland and Scotland.
Kelp: This type of edible seaweed can also be enjoyed both raw or cooked, with one main difference being that you must collect them from coastal sites where they grow on rocks (as opposed to picking up clumps).
Dulse: another common edible seaweed that looks like red lettuce and has a salty flavour.
Sea Lettuce: although not quite as tasty as other seaweeds, sea lettuce is great in salads or eaten raw.
Sea Spaghetti: can be eaten raw and is a type of edible seaweed found around Ireland.
Sea Fennel: this edible seaweed looks similar to celery but has an aromatic taste with hints of liquorice. It’s often added into dishes like a bisque soup where its delicate flavour enhances the taste without overpowering other ingredients.
Carrageen or Irish Moss: This sea moss has a mild taste and is used around the world as a vegan alternative to gelatine, an immune booster and gut supplement.
UK Seaweed Experts
The UK seaweed experts that we know of are: Dr Susan Hopkins, University of Plymouth, who has studied seaweed for over 40 years, and her research has helped us understand how seaweed is affected by pollution. Professor Keith Hamer from Brighton Marine Biology Unit at the University of Sussex whose studies have focused on the world’s largest brown algae forests in British Columbia – though there are many more in Scotland or Wales!
There is a number of seaweed foraging experts in the UK who are doing research, writing books or teaching people how to forage.
UK Seaweed Courses
To learn how to identify the edible seaweed that grows around uk shores, go to the University of Plymouth’s MPA Seaweed ID course.
Irish Seaweed Experts
Ireland has a long history of seaweed foraging. The most famous Irish seaweed expert is John Fitzgerald, who is also the lead seaweed expert at Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens. He offers courses on identifying edible and medicinal Irish seaweeds through Wild Atlantic Seaweed Tours in Kerry.
Marie Power is another eminent seaweed foraging experts who has written an excellent book called “The Sea Gardener” which covers everything your need to know on identifying and eating wild seaweed.
There are a few other seaweed experts in Ireland who have written books and published research about Irish seaweeds, including Dr Jim Connolly of the National University of Ireland Galway, Kenmare-based botanist Máirtín Dóibhíofaigh and Anne Marie Hourihan from Cork City Council’s Environmental Division.
Seaweed Foraging Tours
Wild Atlantic Seaweed tours offer a variety of classes to identify different species of wild Irish seaweed with their professional experts who will be present throughout your day to answer any questions you may have while they show you the beautiful coastal habitats of Kerry.
They also give lectures about what coastlines are good areas to search for specific types of plants based on where they grow best or when they would typically bloom (such as samphire).
The Sea Gardener is a company owned by Marie Power which does cooking comprehensive cooking workshops that will introduce you to foraging for and seaweed. They include a shore walk, cookery demo, tasting and a talk on the health benefits of seaweed.
Edible Seaweed Recipes
Seaweed is a great vegan and vegetarian source of protein, so if you’re looking for plant-based recipes to cook with seaweed, here are some suggestions.
Edible Seaweed Salad
For this recipe you can use a variety of edible seaweeds or sea vegetables. It’s also vegan and vegetarian, so it’s great for plant-based diets. Originally popular in japan, you can get these now across the world.
To start use sheets of nori seaweed or different sea vegetables, then add vegetables of your choice and some protein.
First, re-hydrate your seaweed. You can buy a packaged sea vegetable salad or mix in wakame and hijiki seaweed. Soak the seaweed for 20 minutes in water.
Prepare the dressing before you drain the seaweed. Combine miso, soy sauce, mirin, sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice vinegar and choice of yuzu juice or lemon juice in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined.
To prepare a seaweed salad, rinse the seaweed in cold water and then drain it. Slice it into bite-sized pieces for wakame or any whole variety of seaweed and place them in a bowl. Pour dressing over to taste, sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the salad, and chill before serving.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the different types of edible seaweed, and the best recipes to try! If you want more information on seaweed or foraging in general then listen to the Go Gather Wild podcast.