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The Milkwood seaweed harvesting guide
To the sea, to the sea…
To the sea, to the sea…
When the surf is booming from the big seas that spring storms can bring, there’s almost always seaweed to be gathered along the shoreline. Down we go at low tide with our baskets, bags or sacks, sometimes to the beach and into the waves, sometimes along the rock shelf. We pick and choose the freshest pieces of seaweed for eating, and other pieces to make into nutrient-rich teas for our vegie garden. It’s a seasonal ritual, of sorts – a time of the year that we look forward to, when we restock both our pantry and our garden shed.
Seaweed harvesting kit
Take a basket or bag that lets water out but keeps seaweed in, plus a smaller bag or bowl for smaller species. Slip-proof shoes are a great idea if you’re heading to the rock shelf, as well as a tide chart and a foldable sharp knife. Foraging with a friend is always a great idea!
As with any type of foraging, being mindful of your environment is key, in multiple ways:
Choosing what to harvest
Unlike plants and fungi, the overwhelming majority of seaweeds are edible and there really aren’t many that are inedible. There are a few exceptions on each continent, so do some research and find out which ones to avoid.
Generally speaking, the different types of seaweeds are used for different things. There are plenty of great resources that cover specific species and their uses (more on this is covered in the Milkwood book). It’s a bit tricky to talk about algae types and groupings in a non-botanical way (apologies to our botanist friends), but here’s the general rundown of a few common types, in plain English.
Wrack (mainly Fucus spp)
The wracks are particularly high in alginates and are commercially harvested all over the world to make agar. Wracks are mostly edible and quite nutritious, but their taste is often considered less than inspiring. They are usually eaten cooked, or dried and crushed.
Kelp (Laminaria spp)
Kelp prefers colder waters, so is found in temperate and colder seas and oceans all across the world, in the subtidal zone. The kelps are generally fabulous for eating when blanched or dried – wakame, kombu, bull kelp, golden kelp and sugar kelp, to name but a few. They can also be eaten fried or flaked.
Laver/nori (Porphyra spp)
Laver can be found clinging to rocks around the high-tide mark. It looks a little bit like draped cellophane when dried up between tides. Porphyra of various species can be found across the world, where it is variously called laver (Europe), nori (Japan) and karengo (New Zealand). It can be eaten blanched and added to laverbread, dried and eaten as is, or made into nori sheets.
Sea lettuce (Ulva spp)
Sea lettuce is a common bright green, lettuce-like seaweed that you’ll find across the world on rocks in the intertidal zone. It’s delicious and is often used fresh or blanched, or dried for delicate flakes and garnishes.
Dulse (Palmaria spp)
Mainly considered a northern hemisphere species, dulse is another intertidal species that hangs in long ribbons from rocks or sometimes on Laminaria species. It’s a prized dried seaweed and tasty eaten fresh too. Known as dillisk in Ireland, dilsk in Scotland and söl in Iceland, dulse is typically dried and eaten much like chips as a snack, or flaked into cooked dishes.
Images and recipes from Milkwood by Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar, Murdoch Books, RRP $45.00 Photography by Kate Berry and Kirsten Bradley, Illustrations by Brenna Quinlan.