We have made the walk from water to earth many times as humans, yes? I think about how we came from the ocean as a species. We grow in a fluid inside our mother’s wombs similar in makeup to the ocean before we ever take our first breath. And we walk the Medicine Wheel each and every year from the water of the west in autumn to the earth of north in winter, until our very last breath. Every year. It seems so simple, and for me falls easily into being good medicine, to take in nourishment from a sea vegetable that grows in the rich mineral baths of our sweet oceans. Shoring up our reserves is the task here and seaweed from our original mother, the mother of us all, provides nourishment and supports restoration for the deep journey inward during winter where we are asked to crystallize our experiences and feelings into wisdom, all the while meeting the physical demands of colder weather, opportunistic microbes, and a culture that does not support slowing down and honoring such ways of being. We must do it anyway and support each other along the way. Seaweed is here and has been since our beginning, and embodies the support needed to make such a journey. I offer here some simple ways to work seaweed into your life as a practice of honoring this walk from the teachings of the west to the north, and from water to earth.
The Quick List: Amazing Benefits of Seaweed
Sea vegetables spend their entire lives luxuriating in the world’s largest, oldest, most complete mineral bath. They soak it up and are among the richest sources of iodine, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and all other trace minerals essential to the growth and repair of our bodies. Getting precise numbers for the mineral content of each variety is difficult because it varies based on the seaweed type, growing location, water temperature, water depth, climate, and season. Often the numbers our scientists want actually fall into ranges which make the rest of us happy. Many benefits of seaweed include:
- Has important antibacterial and antiviral effects.
- Reduces cholesterol levels in the blood by escorting these fat globules out of the blood through the bowels. Yes, you can actually see the globules in the blood draw tubes of some of my patients. This sparks good conversations with them!
- Helps chelate (release) other radioactive elements from our tissues. When the body is saturated with natural iodine from seaweed, it will more readily excrete radioactive iodine taken in from the air, water or food. And no, no one can be allergic to iodine from a seafood allergy. Iodine is required by our bodies.
- Contains B12 (rarely found in vegetables).
- Is rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese and all trace minerals required for growth and repair of our bodies.
- Provides a substance called aliginic acid that helps the body eliminate toxins.
- Contains 14 times more calcium by weight than milk. Plus magnesium in ratios our bodies require for absorption.
- Has easily absorbable, abundant Iron with the added benefit of keeping the bowels regular.
- Is high in protein, low in fat and contains little or no carbohydrates.
- Has components that lower blood pressure and reduce arteriosclerosis (clogging of arteries).
- Has abundant trace minerals required for smooth function of our endocrine system and hormonal pathways, as well as for growth and repair of all tissues.
- Makes super healthy medicine plants in the garden when you add seaweeds to your compost teas.
Who’s in my Apothecary-Pantry?
Let’s meet some of the beauties I’ve leaned on for years to keep myself and my family robust. I consider these part of my ‘primary healthcare system’.
Winged Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
This large brown kelp has a wide distribution in cold waters, does not survive above 16°C and thrives in Northern Atlantic coastal waters. It grows up to 4 m in length and favors wave-exposed rocky reefs. Eaten either fresh or cooked, it is said to have the best protein among the kelps and is also rich in trace metals and vitamins, especially niacin. It is usually collected from the wild and has been eaten by local people of these regions for millennia. This is the traditional miso soup addition.
Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosis)
Bladderwrack is a brown sea vegetable commonly found on both sides of the North Atlantic. In the Gulf of Maine, it grows on the rocky shore along with Rockweed, Dulse, Sea Lettuce, and other seaweeds.
Rich in minerals, vitamins, iodine, and other bioactive compounds,
Bladderwrack also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber and protein. The iodine content is substantial but more moderate than in some other kinds of sea vegetables, particularly kelps.
Bladderwrack can be used in broth, soups and stews, and cooked with grains and vegetables to impart minerals and other nutrients. It’s often used in powder form in capsules as a nutritional supplement, tinctured to make medicinal extracts, and in whole leaf form made as a tea for the bath.
Dulse (Palmaria palmata)
Dulse, a red seaweed with leathery fronds (leaves). It is collected by hand by harvesters plucking it from the rocks at low tide. It is perennial and when either plucked or cut, new growth appears from the edge of the previous season's leaf. Available as whole Dulse, broken into flakes, or ground into powder for use as a seasoning. It looks like dark-red bundles of flat leaves. It is eaten raw in Ireland, like chewing tobacco, or is cooked with potatoes, in soups and fish dishes. Dulse is a good source of minerals, being very high in iron and containing all the trace elements needed in human nutrition. I keep the dried flakes around as a condiment to add to soups and stews.
Hiziki (Hizikia fusiforme)
Hizikia fusiforme is a brown seaweed with a finer frond (leaf) structure than Wakame and Kombu. I keep this as a condiment worked into our food with delicate brine-like sauces for rice and vegetable dishes. It reconstitutes quickly, in minutes, due to its incredibly fine texture.
Kombu (Laminaria japonica)
Kombu is the Japanese name for the dried seaweed that is derived from a mixture of Laminaria species. These include L. longissima, L. japonica, L. angustata, L. coriacea and L. ochotensis. The first three of the above are the main components of the harvest. The plants grow on rocks and reefs from 2-15 meters deep. They prefer calm water at temperatures between 3° and 20°C. I add large pieces to bone and mushroom broths, these being the base of all my soups. The brown seaweeds also contain iodine, which is lacking in nori and other red seaweeds.
Kelp – (Macrocystis pyrifera) ‘Giant Kelp’ and (Nereocystis luetkeana) ‘Bull Kelp’
There are many species of edible kelp. Currently I get mine from Maine and it is an excellent mineral supplement that my family has taken daily for over 25 years. We do not take the hard-to-digest ‘vitamin’ pills. Many people today are low in minerals, due to modern agricultural methods, depleted soils, food processing, weak digestion, and perhaps other reasons. Kelp is well known as an excellent source of the important trace minerals. I work kelp into our food through soups, stocks, stews and veggie dishes, pickled with garlic, and powdered to make capsules for our daily vitamins. I also make compost teas of comfrey, manure, and kelp to feed my medicine plants in the garden ensuring robust growth for medicine making. Land plants love seaweed too!
Our Daily Seaweed Vitamins
I grew up in quite a toxic environment among poorly raised apple trees on farms that sprayed often here in the Hudson Valley of New York. As a child we would play in the spray as if it was a sprinkler. Then drink and bathe in the well water and eat the fruit of these mistreated trees. When I walked to the herbal medicine world in my early twenties it became so obvious that chelation of toxins from my tissues was a major task for me. I did my homework, ditched commercial vitamin pills, and decided that daily seaweed would start the process on the inside while I drastically changed the outside of my life to support a chemical-free footprint for myself and my family. We are open systems with our natural world. We take in and excrete what is in Nature. Focusing on remaining open, discerning where and how I will live, and supporting eliminations has kept me from descending into the fear of illness based on such a childhood. I currently teach herbal medicine on-line and in-person while also working as an OR nurse in the hospital. Radiating this way is a daily task, especially in the modern medicine world. My jars of infusions and healthy food carried in to work for my meals are a constant source of intrigue with hospital coworkers. These simple self-care acts spark conversations that would not happen otherwise , and I thank the plants for this; they are working hard in the most magical ways.
Have a look at my capsule making video for my students in ‘Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons’ course curriculum: part of my ElderMoon School of Herbs work--and my passion. These seaweed capsules have been part of my family’s primary healthcare for over 25 years. Enjoy.
Food as Medicine: Gingered Carrots with Wild
I leave you with a favorite, and super easy, seaweed recipe I lean on often, from my kitchen to yours. Wild Atlantic Wakame, also called Winged Kelp or Alaria is Alaria esculenta. It grows in thick beds on low surf-battered rock ledges and my supplier harvests by the tides of the full and new moon in early spring before the leaves of the trees have returned. It’s the most challenging seaweed to harvest due its remote locations near rocky islands off the coast of northern Maine, though it grows in many coastal regions. Delicate and easy to eat, I often encourage those new to seaweed to start with this one. It’s delicate in taste and texture and easy to work with.
1⁄2 ounce Atlantic wakame soaked in 1⁄2-1 cup warm water for 10 minutes; chop and reserve the soaking liquid
2-3 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or minced
6 large carrots cut into your favorite shape
1-2 onions sliced
1-2 tablespoon coconut oil or other oil you love for sauté
Dash of toasted sesame oil and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Prepare your carrots, onions, and ginger and sauté 5 minutes or more in oil.
Add the Atlantic wakame, tamari and sesame oil and cook until carrots are to your liking.
Use the reserved soaking water from your wakame if more liquid is needed during the cooking.
Adjust seasoning to your liking (hot pepper flakes are a good addition if you enjoy spicy foods).
So easy and delicious whether you are well or recovering from illness. When my family is in recovery mode, we’ve made large batches of this and added it to miso broth with a simple light protein of fish, egg, tofu, or chicken and fresh sliced scallions. Dulse, Arame and other Kelps work well for this recipe too but may need more cook time to get the tender texture we all seek.
Enjoy and may your walk from Water to Earth be nourished deeply by honoring seaweeds that know how to flow, how to stay connected to our Great Mother, how to dive deep (into our tissues) and also how to endure and thrive in harsh but beautiful environments.
Much Love, Jen
References & Resources:
L. Kreischer 2016 Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables: A Way of Eating for Your Health and the Planet’s
Drum, Ryan. 2008 Medicinal Uses of Seaweeds; Updated from Gaia 2008 Conference Notes
Katsutosi, N. 2002. Seaweeds Kaiso: Bountiful Harvest From The Sea: Sustenance For Health and Well-Being.
BIO: Jennifer Costa is a Community Herbalist of over 25 years and a Critical Care RN of 10 years. She runs the ElderMoon School of Herbs with on-line and in-person Herbal Medicine and Earth Medicine training courses as a way to support plant based primary health care for families. Turning to Nature for our deepest healing is a passion she will expand upon with new offerings based on her Earth Medicine practices. Website: www.eldermoonschool.net