The Elusive Alaria Esculenta

Guest Contribution by Jesse Orr.

Has anyone else been noticing more and more seaweed snacks in grocery stores across Canada?  They are usually seasoned seaweed “chips” that are similar in appearance to the nori sheets used for sushi rolls.  Japanese cuisine is often the source of the most delicious seasonings and preparations for seaweed.

Alaria

Alaria, an edible wild seaweed found along the Atlantic Coast of North America

One popular type of marine algae found especially in Japanese and Korean dishes is Wakame. This is the seaweed found in miso soup.  It also happens to be amazingly good for you-  a source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, manganese, iron, folate, and iodine.  Not only that, but it is very low in calories and may even help burn internal fat!

Wowee! No wonder seaweed snacks are taking off, with a reputation like that!  Wakame today is farmed in Japan, Korea, and France.

Luckily for all you healthy and adventurous types on the Northern American Atlantic coast, there is a wakame equivalent growing wild here at home.  It’s called Alaria Esculenta, and as I mentioned in my last post, it is a prized and delicate plant for the wild seaweed harvester.

Alaria mermaid

Alaria mermaid

Alaria often grows in thick colonies right at the low tide line, where it is only accessible to the land-based harvester at the lowest spring tides.  It grows there on rock ledges,  in very long, thin fronds that are constantly being thrashed by the waves.  When the tide recedes, the Alaria is left smoothed over the contours of the rock like long, wet hair.

In my experience harvesting in Maine, there is only a small window in the late spring and early summer in which to harvest Alaria Esculenta. This is because the plants experience a quick growth spurt in late to mid-May, and the long fronds are quickly torn to shreds by wave action.  Late in the summer the narrow, tough midrib might be all that remains at the end of the length of the plant.

Sporophylls

Sporophylls

So, if you want to harvest some of this local delicacy, you may have to plan in advance by scouting locations at low tide, and by carefully planning the timing of your harvest.  And once you’ve found your wild patch of Alaria, make sure to cut it above the sporophylls, the small leaves at the base of the stem that allow for reproduction.

Treat fresh (or re-hydrated) Alaria like kale when using it raw in salads: remove the tough midrib and then marinate in an acidic dressing to soften.  Here’s a list of what to add to chopped, fresh Alaria for a very tasty salad:

  • cucumbers, sliced thinly
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • fresh ginger
  • brown rice vinegar
  • mirin (a sweet rice wine condiment)
  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce, or tamari

To your health!

A Wave of Alaria

A Wave of Alaria

Jesse Orr is a visual artist, puppeteer, theatre designer and seasonal agricultural worker based in Montreal. This post is part of a series, based on her excellent zine, Wild Seaweeds of the North Atlantic.

Wild Seaweeds of the North Atlantic is available for purchase from Ecology Action Centre or Anchor Archive Zine Library

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