The hunt started early, but not as early as the mushroom forage did. Actually, June 9th, 2019 saw a very late, low tide for the Pacific coast (peak: 11:47 AM). A crowd gathers at 9 AM, off to tame, maim and claim the wild sea vegetable.
Sea vegetable? You mean seaweed? Yes, but weeds taste, well, weedy, wouldn’t they, and these were delicious. You haven’t tasted sea vegetables until you pluck Sister Sara’s pickled, mini english peas straight out of the ocean and flip...right into your mouth. Reminded me of a crunchy Dirty Martini.
Seaweeds are known for their nutritional properties; high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and iodine, they are thought to benefit the thyroid, heart, sugar regulation and detoxification. Plus they are high-vibe. Superfood, you know. And some taste really good. Refreshing. Other-worldy-wild.
We head down to the beach.
Sonoma Coast State Park. How did I NOT know 16 miles of our shoreline is a state park? We are lucky people.
Heidi Herrmann, owner of Strong Arm Farm, is our guide. She shares that seaweeds contain the greatest amount and broadest range of minerals of any organism, with rich, easily assimilated protein. “You are standing along one the worlds great sea vegetable regions, from San Luis Obispo county up to the Mendocino Coast,” says Herrmann. “Cold water and a rocky shore support a high variety of seaweeds. Sonoma and Mendocino Counties are particularly prime given the deep, cold and nutrient dense water upwelling from a trench right offshore. Look for rocky shoreline when harvesting seaweed."
There are over 640 different types of sea veggies found in the region; today we are on the hunt for five: Kombu (Laminaria) Nori (Pyropia) Sister Sara (Cystoseira), Bladderwrack (Fucus) and Turkish Towel (Chondracanthus). Foragers can collect 10# of seaweed a day without a permit, which dries up to about a pound. The best time to hunt is now, the growing season, May - August.
I join the hunt knowing a little something about sea veggies. We learned at Vega Macrobiotic Center, a food and living philosophy / school with roots in Japan. Teacher Corneillia Aihara cooked dried beans with Kombu to break down troublesome gases (Beano used to be 100% Kombu), and add vital minerals. We also used it extensively in Dashi, the umami-rich Japanese stock made by steeping Kombu with Shittake.
Nori is the seaweed used in sushi wraps, a processed product made from a drying and powdering the vegetable, and shaping it into the flat squares we find at the market (it does not grow that way). Only one cell thick, this sea vegetable is very high in protein. Dry it, grind to a powder and sprinkle on everything.
Sister Sara is new to me and wow! - a perfectly-pickled-punch of crunch. Pick it right out of the ocean, graze and enjoy!
Bladderwrack, very high in iron and iodine, is regarded as the panacea by some herbal healers and nicknamed the thyroid seaweed. I didn't harvest any; I was looking for Nori mostly. Kombu and Sister Sara were easy to find where we went.
Turkish Towel has been used for centuries as a wash cloth; it is covered in little bumps that exfoliate skin and secrete a gel ( Carrageenan) when used with warm water. Carrageenan is used commercially as a thickener for processed foods. I didn't see any, and didn't really look.
photo by Good Natured Herbal
Our instructions are to harvest the seaweed at just the right spot so we don’t kill the plants. For Kombu, that means cut right where the fingers start. When harvested correctly, the fingers will continue growing (10 inches a month from May – August, peak season).
Keep an eye out for the fake Kombu, which is edible but lacking the umami / flavor that real Kombu offers. The difference is real Kombu does not have these ridges on the base of the blade,
but rather a smooth surface.
bed of Kombu and Sister Sara
Find patches of Nori hugging ocean rocks. It attaches to rocks by a small connection at the top, and hangs like a drape. Remove it at the attachment.
As the low tide allows sun to hit it directly, it dries like a wet t-shirt onto the surface. You can still pick it with respect.
After the harvest, rinse the sea vegetable as soon as possible, and let dry.
For me that meant spread across a boogie board in the back seat of my car, for the 3 hour trip home. You see kombu in front, Sister in the middle and nori in back, about 10# most likey.
Let the sea vegetables continue to dry in the oven at 150°F, 2 hours for Nori, and 4 hours for Kombu, making it shelf stable for years. Gosh darn it, they were right - it dried up to just a pound. Amazing!
Sister Sara doesn’t hold up long after removal from the ocean. Herrmann says you have 30 hours to get it in a bath of vinegar, where you can leave it pickling in your refrigerator for a couple months, and eat it as you go. I've been hesitant for some reason, but I'm trying mine right now!
Interested in hunting wild foods? Check out all the offerings at Forage SF.
- Photos by LSIC except one