Seaweed is overlooked in the UK, the broad term given to the underworld of amazing plants in our ocean that are rarely referred to by their individual name or species. Indeed the common association with seaweed is that it is something slimy and unsightly, attached to a rock or looping itself around our ankles as it floats in the water. Weeds are dug up and discarded. The idea of a beach paradise is of white sand and crystal clear water with no trace of plant life. Yet other nations have appreciated seaweed for centuries, for food, fertiliser, health and wellbeing.
I knew that you could eat seaweed, but I was unsure what I was looking for and when it was safe to eat, so I arranged to meet up with expert forager, Emma Gunn to learn more about seaweed foraging in Cornwall. Thanks to Emma’s knowledge and enthusiasm, I am now fascinated. I learned that in fact most of our seaweed is edible, although some taste more edible that others!
We based ourselves down at Porthpean on the South Coast of Cornwall, a place where I can’t wait to go back for a sea swim or explore in a kayak. At low tide, the rocky outcrop revealed is a perfect place to spend hours looking at rock pools and discovering a huge variety of seaweeds attached to the rocks.
The number of different plants was much more than I’d ever acknowledged as Emma talked while we observed and tasted – yes, tasted, fresh from the sea!
Seaweed is classified as red, green or brown and have seasons of growth just like any other plant with around 600 species in UK waters, 350 species growing along the Cornish coast. Seaweeds are rich in nutrients such as potassium, iron, calcium, iodine and magnesium and also contain fibre and protein. Yet you should be cautious as to the origin when you are seaweed foraging as they are also excellent filters and are being used in research to learn more about they use for water purification or in the event of environmental disaster.
As we talked more, I really began to wonder why we don’t regard our seaweed more highly when it is available in such abundance. We looked at seaweeds for different flavours, such as Dulse (right) which takes on a smoky flavour like bacon when you fry it, while sea spaghetti (below) or mermaids hair, if I was allowed to name things, can be used to replace pasta – cooked in the pot in exactly the same way. I was intrigued when we found nori (used for making sushi) and carrageen which is used as a thickener in recipes and products.
I am most interested however in how seaweed can be used in therapeutic ways, such as skin treatments and muscle care, so I will certainly go seaweed foraging again!
To have your introduction to seaweed and other types of foraging, contact Emma Gunn at Nevermind the Burdocks and visit her shop where you can buy her beautifully produced books.