Seaweed Harvesting on the North Coast

May and June are great seaweed gathering months on the North Coast. I prefer June as we generally have milder weather, which makes for an easier harvest. We arrived at this Mendocino location for a minus tide very early in the morning. I like this location as we don’t have to walk as far down the beach, which means less a hike back when laden with wet seaweed! We had a lovely morning with very little wind and were able to harvest plenty of sea veggies for personal use. We saw nori, wakame, kombu, sea grass, sea lettuce, feather boa, cystoseira, turkish towel, bladder wrack only to mention the seaweeds. Life abounds at the ocean edge.

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This is a great example of wakame, a type of kelp with a large mid-rib. While we usually harvest only seaweed that is still living and therefore attached to a rock, this lovely specimen was obviously freshly freed from her moorings.

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Minus tides, like the one shown here, allow access to the deeper regions often left covered by the sea.  Different seaweeds occupy different tidal zones, so the more exposure, the more access for the harvester.

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The sea grass and the “feather boa” seaweed laid bare on the sand as the tide receded. Although not choice edibles, most of the seaweeds found in our area are edible. As always, make sure you positively identify all plants and animals before eating them! Visiting the same places year after year is a great way to monitor the change in seasons, environmental pressures and population health. Careful observation is a necessary skill for the wild forager.

 

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Star fish, anemone and wakame all snuggled up.

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Ahhh, another day at the office! One more job perk of being a wild crafter; the scenery never gets old!

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It’s easy to harvest seaweed once you know the types, simply cut small portions of the fronds using scissors and never take more than half of a plant to assure proper regeneration. The hard part is toting your bounty back to your car. You must carry the wet (hopefully not too sandy) material on your back. Harvest wisely!

 

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Ribbons of kelp: I spy some kombu tangled in here.

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“Feather Boa” being bathed in mother ocean upon the returning tide.

 

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If there is one thing an herbal can never have enough of it’s jars.

 

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The simplest way to dry seaweed is in the sun. A sheet laid flat on the ground, or as shown here over a railing to protect from peeling paint is a great way to quickly and cheaply dry seaweed. Other ideas include clothes lines, clothes drying racks, hanging over fences, and utilizing outside tables and other clean, flat surfaces. Depending on your weather and the size of your pieces it can take anywhere from a few hours to 5 days to dry. Be sure to watch out for rain showers, sprinklers and figure the morning dew into your equation. When your seaweed is totally dry pack into storage containers. Glass jars are nice, but plastic bags are better at accommodating the bulky, dried material.

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Cystoseira is a little known seaweed that is delicious pickled fresh. It looks like a mess of mermaid hair and mustard flower seed pods, but has a mild taste even those who are not big fans of sea veggies often enjoy.

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We like to pickle it in a home made brine which keeps the seaweed shelf stable without needing canning. Mine has lasted for several years without refrigeration and is still delicious!!