Give yourself over to the Kelp Craze

Guest contribution by Jesse Orr.

This is the smile of a day of labour accomplished, while the sun is still shining.  It was the first day of several, as you can tell by the look of energetic enthusiasm.

Jesse in kelp

I was in Downeast Maine learning about the wild seaweed harvest, and the task at hand was to harvest and dry most of the kelp Saccharina Longicruris needed for the year before the lowest tides of the month, when we could move on to the delicate Alaria Esculenta.

We harvested that first day out of a small motor boat in a sheltered bay.  At low tide the patches of kelp were visible from afar as just a few black shapes peaking above the waterline.  Once we were floating on top of these marine forests, the layered canopy of golden-brown fronds were visible.  Jackpot!  It got more and more exciting each time we found a thick, full-grown patch of kelp.

In my research I’ve found no mention of this “kelp craze” but I did experience it.   We would drop anchor and I would promptly lean the top half of my body over the edge of the boat, hips, knees, and feet to keep myself in the boat.  Using a knife, I’d cut a few stipes at once, near where they broadened into fronds, and haul them up and out of the water.

This is a moment of glory in the harvesting of Saccharina Longicruris; I would raise a fistful of what looked like sea monster limbs, all transparent, dripping and heavy, as far as I could extend my arm above my head.  The catch!  Their ratty tails, slick with reproductive spores being released into the ocean, would still be trailing off for several feet.  These spores we leave in the water.

Teen fashion

By the time of the above photo, we’ve hung all of the long fronds up to dry in the sun back at Seaweed Basecamp.  At that point, they have lost some of their wild associations and they have begun to remind me of the dark yellow-gold of some 1970s fridges, and of the transparency of thick latex, and of ruffled fabric.

Unfortunately I was not able to fully explore the possible applications of this inspiring algae to the fashion industry, but I do have a few ideas, as illustrated.

Mother-daugher fashion

Kelp has many (real) applications in other industries; it was the main source of iodine before it could be synthesized, and its alginic acid content makes it useful for everything from slimming aids to dental molds.  The brown algae are also full of trace minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium that they absorb from the surrounding seawater.

Once dried, the Longicruris is dark green and crisp, can be used as a seasoning on salads or rehydrated and added to stews, soups, and stir-fries.  Here are a few recipes from a seaweed company in British Columbia to get you started.  That is, once you’ve rested after your long day of seaweed harvesting in the summer sun, and you’ve had a chance to cook yourself a healthy meal.

 —

Nereo Soup


(2-3 servings)

½ – 1 Cup Bull Kelp Blades (dried) use scissors to snip into small pieces

3 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock

½ Cup Cubed Tofu or Pork

½ Cup Broccoli florets

¼ Cup Soy Sauce

1 Egg, beaten

2 Green Onions, thinly sliced

Combine first 5 ingredients and heat to boiling. Stir beaten egg into soup. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with green onions.

Jesse Orr is a visual artist, puppeteer, theatre designer and seasonal agricultural worker based in Montreal. This post is the second in a series, based on her zine, Wild Seaweeds of the North Atlantic, which is available for purchase from Ecology Action Centre or the Anchor Archive Zine Library

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4 thoughts on “Give yourself over to the Kelp Craze

    • Some seaweed that washes up on shore may be fresh and clean enough to eat, but I would be *extremely* choosey. There are a lot of rotting creatures and plants of all sorts jumbled up at the high tide line. If you see a perfect specimen, perhaps wash well and eat with caution–otherwise I would use beached seaweed for other things, like mulch or fermented tea for your garden.

  1. Pingback: The Elusive Alaria Esculenta | Small Scales

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