How and where to forage for seaweed

Spend a day at the beach with Fraser Christian, looking for 'Neptune's jewels'.

How and where to forage for seaweed

As the sun rises over a sleepy beach, the reflections of shimmering slender plants may be seen dancing in the shallows. As the tide recedes, a wealth of plant life can be found patiently clinging to the rocks. Seaweed is one of Neptune’s jewels. It’s both highly nutritious – kelp is a good source of sodium, iodine and antioxidants – versatile and easily accessible – plus it 
tastes good, too!

Where you’ll find it
There are three main categories of seaweed conveniently coloured green, red and brown. The first one you usually find as the tide goes out are the green ones, then red, then brown.

Rocks are needed for seaweed to hold fast to, as they don’t have any roots as such and therefore won’t be found on sand or mud. At low tide on most beaches with some rocks, you should be lucky enough to find a fair selection. Try to find a bay or somewhere not too exposed to the relentless pounding of the waves. The biggest tides are the best, as the sea goes out further exposing more of the shoreline; known as spring tides, these always fall a few days either side of a new or full moon. Tide times can be easily found online or through harbourmasters’ offices and the RNLI.

How to identify it
I have picked three varieties that will combine well in the risotto recipe, left. They each come from the different coloured zones, although when cooked they all turn a shade of green.

Start by looking for sea lettuce, a slender, delicate green seaweed, and one of the first to show itself as the tide recedes. It’s almost see-through and bright green, looking good enough to eat there and then.

Next try to find dulse, a red member of the seaweed family and a really tasty one. It’s slightly tougher than sea lettuce as it has to withstand more desecration from the waves in usually deeper depth, although they can be found side by side. The fronds are red and flat, 2.5cm or so across.

Lastly, search out oarweed, a type of kelp. It has a distinctive long, thick stem and hand-shaped body of flat finger-like fronds.

How to forage it
Look for a remote stretch of coast that is far from sewerage outfall buoys and industrial pollutants – mouths of estuaries should be avoided. Try to find a good community of plants and only take what you need to use. Look for healthy-looking young plants that are still firmly attached to the rock – never collect washed up or floating seaweed for eating, as it often starts to decompose slightly and in some cases can become toxic.
A pair of scissors are good for snipping off the top sections of the plant – make sure you leave the rest to regenerate. You’ll need a small bucket, or bags, to put your findings 
in – a bucket is best if you don’t want seawater leaking out on the journey home!

What you can do with it
Seaweed is very versatile and is used for a multitude of things, from garden fertiliser to shampoo. Lava and dulse seaweed are both used to flavour bread; Irish moss or carrageen is used as a thickening and gelling agent in many food products; and dried and powdered kelp can be added as a salt substitute – besides being a great fertiliser that slugs hate to crawl across!

When using seaweed for cooking, only wash it quickly in fresh water just before use.

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