Australian Algae Abundance
For us Australians, right on our doorstep floats an incredibly nutritious and regenerative aquatic plant: Seaweed.
The good news is, nearly all of the vast diverse algae available from the salty waters of Australia are not only edible but also delicious and highly nutritious.
As it rolls up in waves and hits us while we swim, or takes up residence on our sandy beaches, we treat it like a nuisance. We get scared or repulsed by it. Local councils bulldoze the plant away. By harvesting from your local beach you are effectively diverting organic matter from the tip that either-wise councils would be dumping.
We need to flow a little more love and value to this non-flowering algae that lacks true roots, leaves and vascular tissue.
Seaweeds are a very sustainable source of food - they don't need any dirt nor freshwater to grow. By introducing seaweeds in your diet, you are contributing towards more sustainable ways to consume food.
This post hopefully inspires you to get more close, personal and tangible with your local seaweeds as you learn foraging, preparation and culinary methods.
Foraging Guidelines & Etiquette
As with any type of foraging, their are rules and etiquette to be mindful of:
- Know the area you are foraging from - Forage from somewhere that’s relatively clean and non-toxic. Does the council or anyone spray pesticides/poison there? Do animals typically eliminate their waste products there? For seaweeds, this means avoiding ocean sewage/pollution outlets and coeans that aren't copping a lot of industrial pollutants.
- Harvest sustainability - On the land, leave some to continue to grow and spread. Leave some for other humans and also the multiple creatures that use these organic substances as a home and food.
- Use a sharp knife - For plants, including some seaweeds, that attach strongly to their base. This ensures you don't damage the holdfast so they can re-grow.
- Check the Regulations - Where ever you go, they differ. Check out the legalities and ethics in Australia.
Golden kelp (Ecklonia radiata) is a large brown to golden-brown seaweed up to 1.5 meters long.
The stem (stipe) is rounded and at the base has a holdfast that looks like the rooting part of a tree. This is not technically a root, but and anchoring device for the seaweed to hold steady underwater. You will get to know it very quickly after picking it up on the beach.
Golden kelp can be found all around Australia (see map below).
You will find it in big piles after big seas, mixed up with debris and other seaweeds on the beach.
Timing of Harvest
Just after high tide or after a storm where the sea leaves behind the fresh kelp.
Harvesting is in spring and autumn is more abundant because that's when they grow the most, but you can effectively find golden kelp all year round.
Please note it is best to collect seaweeds when they have naturally dislodged from their place on the seafloor. This is to ensure the least amount of disturbance to the marine ecology. This marine ecology also has significance when the kelp is in big biles on the beach, so even in this case it should be collected in small amounts and from different places on the sand/rocks.
Do not to harvest seaweed from the sea, but rather wait until it floats free.
Rinse all the sand off in a bucket or sink of cold water.
You can then leave it to dry in the sun on the floor, but ideally suspended on a drying rack or clothes line.
According to Ole G. Mouritsen in his book Seaweeds: edible, available + sustainable – the UV light helps the polyphenols break down into simple tannins, which makes them taste better and further promote the digestive properties of kelp.
In 2-3 days, our seaweed was crispy dry, and turned from golden-brown to dark green.
There are a few ways to chop the kelp that I know of:
- Dry and then chop - this is much harder on the finger muscles and you'll need strong scissors.
- Chop while wet, then dehydrate. This is really only possibly if you have a mesh-like drying rack so they don't fall through, or a dehydrator. Note, you may need to use a dehydrator if the weather is very cold and moist.
- Marinate - This is a different way other than drying.
- Blanch into a large pot of boiling water for 10-30 seconds, it will turn bright green.
- Separate the stem from the fronds (like leaves).
- Cut stem into long thin strips like noodles, the stem is firmer than the fronds and should be cooked more.
- Cut the fronds into small squares, these parts are softer and go well on soups or stir-fries.
Preserve in a Jar Ready for Use
After chopping up a bit, add into a strong blender and blend into small granules.
It can be kept also in bigger pieces, but I like them as close to powder so I can easily add it into any dish.
Keep in a jar, ready for use.
I add these into any cooking pot (I add towards to end to only cook for a short while). I recommend cooking for a little bit, even just blanching will soften it.
Ayurvedic View on Kelp
Ayurvedic Properties of Golden Kelp
Rasa (Taste): Lavana (Salty) and Tikta (Bitter) (sometimes)
Virya (Potency): Usna (heating)
Doshas: V- PK+
- Vata: Seaweeds can be drying (ruksa guna), so better hydrate it (soak in water) or add to cooking with some water to pacify Vata.
- Pitta: The usna virya (heating potency) of salt aggravates Pitta.
- Kapha: The liquid quality (dravam guna) that is immediately produced by lavana rasa and the slimy (picheela guna) in seaweed (which helps thicken up a soup) can increase kapha
Grounds the Nervous System
Sinking and heavy = grounding for nervous system. “Salt of the earth.”
The quality of moistness pacifies the vata and nourishes the nervous system.
More Medicinal Qualties
- Deepana - Enkindles and strengthens the Agni (digestive fire)
- Pachana - Digests the Ama
- Chedana - expulsion of the doshas
- Bhedana (breaking)
- Vikasi Sroto Sodhaka - (suksma) - Antispasmodic. Loosens the joints. These herbs destroy the tone of the joints by loosening the ligaments. - Can be medicinal or damaging, thus must be used the right way.
- Sareera mardavakara – Softening in the body, due to jala mahabhuta.
- Samshodana - purificatory
- Dhatu Saithilyakara – cause looseness of the dhatu.
~ Karmas of Lavana Rasa that apply to Golden Kelp
- It strengthens the immune system.
- Stimulates kidney function.
- It's tikta rasa can help reduce inflammation.
Seaweed has been shown to protect the body against radiation and environmental pollutants
Very High in Minerals
Kelp contain minerals, trace elements, vitamins, and amino acids.
Basically no other group of plants contains more minerals and nutrients than seaweed.
Kelp contains about 30 minerals. Kelp is packed with iodine, calcium, sulfur, silicon, phosphorus, iron, sodium, barium, boron, chromium, lithium, potassium, aluminum, strontium, bismuth, magnesium, copper, chloride, zinc, manganese, nickel, silver, vanadium, chlorine, cobalt, gallium, tin and zirconium. It contains vitamin C, E, D, K and B complex. Thus, it is a wise food for people who have mineral deficiencies.
Iodine found in kelp has been shown to boost metabolism and support the thyroid in cases of hypothyroidism.
The high amounts of calcium and magnesium found in seaweed promotes bone health and the magnesium helps the body to absorb calcium.
High in Chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is a pigment that absorbs sunlight (photosynthesis), transforms it along with minerals, water and carbon dioxide to produce food for the plant itself to grow. It also is what gives plants their green colour.
- Helps increase the production of red blood cells.
- According to a study, chlorophyll contains antioxidant and anti-mutagenic properties that may benefit your health by fighting free radicals throughout your body.
- Lower your risk of cancer — Helps in inducing apoptosis, according to a research published in Nutrition Research.
- Manage arthritis — Evidence has shown anti-inflammatory properties to help with chronic inflammation.
- Fight free radicals — According to the Journal of Food Science, dietary chlorophyll contains antioxidant and antimutagenic properties that may benefit your health by fighting free radicals throughout your body.12
- Kill pathogenic yeast — Oral thrush, caused by the yeast strain Candida albicans, may be treated by consuming chlorophyll, according to a study.
- Manage your weight — Studies indicated that the procedure was able to help suppress test subjects' hunger by intensifying signals of satiety.
- Reduce body odor — It may help eliminate bad fishy odour by reducing the amount of thrimethylamines excreted by your body, a study showed. It even helped ease chronic constipation as a positive side effect.
Seaweeds are excellent fertilisers- you can add straight into the compost or bury into the ground to distribute plenty of minerals to your soil.
Further Information and Resources
Milkwood did a great article about Seaweed in Australia
There are little enterprises like Sea Health Products, who have been collecting golden kelp in the waves at Narooma for decades, have a commercial drying facility in a valley and have based an entire business around this "weed." So when you find it fresh, take some of that goodness home with you.
The recommended resources for further learning above.
Do you have a seaweed you forage or a recipe? Comment below.
The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vital Veda; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.