Seaweed Harvesting: Embracing the Oceans Bounty

Posted by Colleen Bones on

Seaweed Harvesting

I eagerly anticipate the annual ritual of gathering seaweed along the rugged coast of northern California. It is a customary practice for me to venture out during the mornings of late spring and early summer, precisely when the tides recede significantly. Seaweed is a nourishing marine plant abundant in iron, calcium, and iodine and possesses remarkable blood-purifying properties. It is an exceptional wild food to incorporate into everyday culinary creations. For optimal nutritional benefits, consuming freshly harvested seaweed directly from the rocks is highly recommended! To savor the ultimate flavor and health benefits, I suggest organizing a delightful beach picnic. Prepare a pot of sushi rice in advance and a small jar of soy sauce. Carefully cut the freshly harvested seaweed into small, delectable pieces. Allow the seaweed to marinate in soy sauce for approximately 10 minutes. Serve the marinated seaweed over the sushi rice and enhance the dish with a drizzle of sesame oil, a dash of sriracha, slices of avocado, and a squeeze of lemon. This delightful combination creates a fusion of flavors that will undoubtedly tantalize the taste buds.

For those seeking an extra touch of adventure during the minus tide expeditions, I recommend trying your hand at poke poling. You can find useful instructional videos on YouTube demonstrating how to craft a simple pole for this purpose. Beneath the exposed rocks and within the tide pools, one can discover an array of intertidal fish. Notably, the monkey face eel and rockfish are particularly delightful catches that are sure to gratify your culinary aspirations.

As always, I advise consulting an experienced herbalist to guide you on your seaweed journey. Consider acquiring a field guide on the subject, as it can be quite helpful. Oftentimes, there are local facebook groups of people sharing their wildcrafting adventures!

 What to Pack

  • Backpack
  • Field Guide
  • Shoes that can get wet (tevas, five fingers)
  • Heavy Duty Plastic bags with handles. I found this is the easiest way to hold wet and sometimes heavy seaweed while scaling jagged rock. Cut a few very small knife holes at the bottom allow drainage. 
  • Gloves
  • Clippers/knife
  • Small colander (collapsible is convenient)
  • Jacket/Sunscreen (you just never know)
  • Lunch/Utensils 
  • Optional: Poke pole, tackle box, ice chest, ice, bait 
Seaweeds + Uses
Bladderwrack: A perennial seaweed that ranges in color from olive to tan to brown. It primarily grows in the upper to mid intertidal zones, and it constitutes a significant portion of the seaweed population from Alaska to central California. Bladderwrack is not only highly nutritious but also renowned as an herbal remedy for balancing metabolism, thanks to its rich iodine content. Iodine is essential for the thyroid gland to produce hormones that regulate various bodily functions such as metabolism, circulation, immune system, energy levels, and overall well-being. During the reproductive stage, bladderwrack develops swollen tips that are particularly mucilaginous. This phase presents an ideal time for harvesting. By cutting off the swollen tips while leaving the stems attached to the rocks, you can gather the desired portions. To dry the harvested bladderwrack, spread the tips on a drying screen. Apart from internal use, bladderwrack can also be applied topically to provide soothing relief for strains, sprains, bruises, and it offers skin benefits as well. It can even make for a delightful addition to bathing rituals.
Bulb Kelp: Rich in salts, potassium chloride, protein, calcium, iron, and zinc, bulb kelp offers a plethora of nutrients. For culinary purposes, you can pickle the bulb kelp's stipe by slicing it into small rounds. It's important to note that bulb kelp is an annual plant, so it's best to harvest only the leafy portions above the bulb to ensure regrowth and sustainability.
Sea condom: Olive to tan in color, and typically discovered in the mid to low intertidal zones, these fascinating seaweeds can be foraged from spring to autumn. They are characterized by hollow, gas-filled sacs that grow on rocks. These sacs can be quite enjoyable to eat, especially when stuffed with rice or other fillings. When harvesting, it's recommended to carefully cut the young pieces from the rocks to ensure sustainable gathering practices.
Feather Boa: A long, gelatinous strip of seaweed awaits, ranging in color from dark brown to olive green and stretching up to 11 feet in length. This seaweed is perfect for incorporating into your bathing rituals, as it can be wrapped around your body and used to wash your back. When harvesting, focus on gathering the tender young parts of the plant to ensure optimal quality. Once cooked, this seaweed becomes delightfully tender, and adding the floats to soups can bring an element of fun to your culinary endeavors.
Cystoseira: One of my personal favorites! This delightful seaweed is a treat when pickled straight from the sea. It can be found in the low to sub intertidal zones, often in deeper waters. With the potential to grow up to 15 feet in length, it's truly impressive. To harvest, simply snip the tips. I absolutely love pickling this seaweed! Check out the recipe below to enjoy its delicious flavors.
Nori: You can find over 20 different species of this seaweed, each displaying a unique range of colors. It is a delicate perennial that thrives in the mid to high intertidal zones. What makes it truly exceptional is its high protein content, ranging from 25% to 50%, as well as its rich nutritional profile. It contains significant amounts of Vitamins A, C, and B1, along with calcium, iron, iodine, phosphorus, and valuable unsaturated fatty acids. Notably, it also contains tarine and porphyran, the latter being a gel-like substance found in nori, which may have inhibitory effects on tumor growth. This seaweed is incredibly versatile and delicious to eat. To harvest, gently pull it from the rocks and give it a thorough rinse in sea water. Afterward, dry it well in the sun or lightly toast it in the oven or a cast iron pan. Once cooled, crumble it into flakes. These flakes are a true delicacy, boasting high iron and protein content, as well as an abundance of minerals and vitamins.
Turkish Towel: With a textured surface and colors ranging from red to brown, this remarkable seaweed can be used just like a washcloth. When handled, it releases healing gels that are beneficial for the skin. Its unique texture makes it ideal for exfoliating during baths or showers, providing a rejuvenating experience for your skin.
Sea Lettuce: This bright green seaweed thrives in the upper intertidal zone, often growing alongside nori on rocks. It is thin, edible, and absolutely delicious. To harvest, gently pull it from the rock, taking care to handle it with respect. Before drying, make sure to thoroughly rinse it in sea water using a colander to remove any sand or shellfish that may be clinging to it. This seaweed is not only a culinary delight but also rich in iron, protein, minerals, and vitamins. It offers a nutritious boost to your diet and can contribute to overall well-being.
Kombu: In the lowest intertidal zone, you'll find these remarkable seaweed blades with firm blue-black color, gracefully arching over the water's edge. They immerse themselves in the swirling currents, showcasing their flat and shiny appearance. When harvesting, trim each blade about 2-3 inches above the stipe, ensuring that you leave enough for the native Kombu to continue growing. This careful approach helps sustain its growth. After trimming, it's best to dry the blades as quickly as possible under the sun. As they warm, you may notice a thick, clear gel oozing from them. This seaweed is not only nutritive but also high in organic iodine, calcium, and potassium. It contains approximately 9% protein, as well as carotene, niacin, B complex vitamins, and vitamin C. Kombu serves as an exceptional base for soups, stocks, and sauces. It works wonderfully with beans, adding minerals, flavor, and aiding in softening. Additionally, it can be used to make delightful pickles. Notably, Kombu has the ability to help eliminate heavy metals and radiation from our bodies. Baths infused with Kombu can help calm the nerves and can be used interchangeably with the Japanese variety

Dulce: Dulce is a deep red and tender seaweed that grows in the mid intertidal zone and adds a unique flavor that perfectly complements eggs, vegetables, rice. A perfect mineral rich salt replacement. Dried dulse snipped with scissors into tiny pieces becomes a salty condiment which may be used to season anything. Dulse is great sprinkled on salads, pizza (like anchovies), on or in omelettes, soup, stew or chowder. Dulse softens quickly and gradually dissolves. Harvest by pulling the longer blades from the rocks leaving the shorter blades for regeneration. Spread out on screens to dry as quickly as possible. You will need the whole day to dry so if you harvested in mid day, hold the crop overnight and spread it out to dry in the morning.

Wakame: Brownish to olive colored perennial in lower to sub tidal zones.  Tasty and versatile. Harvest with a knife or scissors to cut off the end of the blade leaving at least 3 ft above the sporophylls to ensure successful reproduction. 

Sea Palm: Sea palms are easily recognizable as they resemble miniature palm trees growing on rocks. They firmly attach themselves to the outer surface of the rocks. To harvest sea palm, carefully use scissors to cut the leafy fronds from the main body (thallus), leaving the stalk (stipe) intact. These seaweed strands, often referred to as "sea noodles," are exclusive to the Pacific Northwest region. They can be enjoyed raw, toasted, sautéed, or added to soups and salads. It's important to note that sea palms are endangered in our coastal areas, so it's recommended to only sample a small portion or harvest a minimal amount to ensure their conservation.

To ensure proper harvesting of seaweed, it's important to follow appropriate techniques. Once harvested, immediately rinse the seaweed in a colander using sea water. This will effectively remove any sand or ocean fauna that may be present on the seaweed, ensuring its cleanliness and quality. 


Seaweed Recipes

Kids and parents alike will enjoy pickling seaweed!

Pickled Seaweed
A simple recipe for pickled seaweed: Fill a mason jar with fresh salt rinsed seaweed like cystoseira, 1/3 ACV, 1/3 soy sauce or tamari, 1/3 vinegar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, red pepper flakes, fresh garlic, onion, ginger. Soooooo good! 
Allison's Seaweed Candy
Dy and roast handfuls of nori and/or seaweed in a hot, dry cast iron skillet.  This only takes a minute.  Juts leave your seaweed on the heat long enough to change color and become crispy.  Be careful not to burn it.  Roast any combination of nuts, and seeds in the same manner, sunflower, sesame, flax, and pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashew and walnut are great to use. Grind together in a blender or food processor the seaweed and 1/2 the seeds and nuts and enough.  Mix this together with the remaining seeds and nuts and enough brown rice syrup to hold it all together.  Add any extras such as candied ginger or dried fruits.  Spread onto a cookie sheet and cover with suran wrap and using a rolling pin and as much as your body wight roll into a flat sheet. Spread the melted chocolate chips on top if you like and leaves in the fridge for about an hour or so before slicing into bars. Enjoy!
Kombu with Beans
Kombu helps to soften the beans, thickens the broth and adds minerals that helps with digestion. Add a four to six inch strip of kombu to your large pot of beans. 
There are many ways you can use seaweed! Try drying and powdering to incorporate into salt blends and smoothies or try making your own seaweed mask! 
While exploring the water's edge, proceed with caution and be observant for holes under rocks. When using a poke pole, gently insert the tip into these holes and beneath rocky ledges. Allow approximately 30 seconds to a minute before relocating your bait to another area within the hole. If you don't sense any activity, it's advisable to move to a different spot.

Should a fish or eel take interest in your bait, simply pull back to set the hook and carefully transfer your catch to a net. Keep in mind that most eels have a tendency to throw the hook within a few seconds if not immediately netted. Stay vigilant and promptly secure your catch to maximize your chances of success.

Tread the magical path with care and mindfulness

The provided information is for educational purposes only, and it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or qualified expert before making any significant changes to your diet or health practices. Please remember to respect the ocean while harvesting seaweed and poke poling. Always watch rising tides to be sure you can get back safely to shore. Do not venture into the intertidal zone unless you know how to swim. Seaweeds can concentrate undesirable metals (lead, cadmium, copper). Avoid seaweeds from heavily populated centers or industrial areas. Seaweed washed/found on the shoreline may be rotting. Educate yourself on Acid Kelp, a poisonous and rare sea plant that turns other seaweeds white and dissolves them. Use caution.
Recommended Reading and Videos
Dandelion Herbal Center by Jane Bothwell
Sea Vegetables: A Harvesting Guide and Cookbook by Evelyn McCoonaughey
Sea Vegetables Gourmet Cookbook and Wildcrafters Guide by Eleanor and John LeWallen
Mendocino Sea Vegetables

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  • Great recipes & descriptions. Thank you!

    Leslie N. Hoppe on

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