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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable

Uploaded: Jul 22, 2019

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,

fake Kombu

but rather a smooth surface.

real Kombu

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

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jul 22, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Thanks that's cool.

Posted by wondering, a resident of Ormondale School,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 7:15 am

Is anything poisonous in the ocean?

Posted by Reader 123, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:46 am

@wondering (resident of Ormondale School):

Yes, there is.

There's poisonous stuff everyone. In the ocean, in lakes, in forests, in the air, the ground, in your back yard, in the rose garden, etc.

Sea snakes, sea cucumbers, blowfish, et cetera ad nauseam.

Unless you wear one of those germ suits and sleep in one of those bubble rooms, you are probably walking by poisonous stuff every day, insects, foxglove, belladonna, poison oak, whatever. Heck, some people have problems with peanuts. I LOVE them, but some do not.

It pays to take some precautions.

That said, more people die of bee stings than consuming toxic food from the sea. Greater precautions should be taken when harvesting wild mushrooms, especially around here.

Posted by Reader 123, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:50 am

Oh, if you want to learn more, a judicious search of the terms "dangerous sea life" on your favorite search engine will get you started. A trip to the library is probably in order at some point.

Also, try researching this at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. About twenty years ago they had a very popular special exhibition called "Deadly Beauties." It showcased many poisonous organisms (mostly animals); it was not a comprehensive list.

My guess is that there are tens of thousands of organisms in the ocean that will cause anything from a mild rash to death, just the same as on land, in the air, etc.


Posted by Heidi of Strong Arm Farm, a resident of another community,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 11:43 am

There are no poisonous seaweeds.
If you are interested in joining on a seaweed forage there are 3 more dates this summer Aug 3, 4 Sept 1, 2019. More dates in 2020 (May-Aug). ForageSF.com

Please contact me at www.strongarmfarm.com if you have more seaweed questions.
I live in Santa Rosa and lead seaweed forages on the Sonoma Coast.

Posted by tide pool harvest, a resident of Woodside,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 12:02 pm

harvesting edible seaweed at low tide is very easy. what's difficult is trying to find seasonal ocean mushrooms which are somewhat rare depending on locale.

curious...why is a tuna brand advertised as 'Chicken of the Sea'?

Posted by Reader 123, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm

According to the history section of the Chicken of the Sea corporate website, their answer is:

'Fishermen called albacore tuna “chicken of the sea" because of its mild flavor and color. And with this, our memorable brand name was born.' (1914)

Isn't the Internet a wonderful tool?!?

Posted by Kathleen, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Something that can be poisonous are shell fish like clams and mussels during months without an R. May, June, July August.

Stay away from moray eels, electric rays, sea urchins in these local waters.

I wouldn't worry about it too much (they are hard to find rock picking, unless you are diving).

Posted by wondering, a resident of another community,
on Jul 23, 2019 at 5:29 pm

Thanks Heidi, I was wondering about seaweeds. No poisonous seaweeds. So you can just pick it up and eat it? Any of it?

Posted by Midtown Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 24, 2019 at 12:03 pm

I can envision hundreds of folks headed down to the seashore every low tide, each to collect their allowed ten pounds of seaweed - and then wonder, why are there no intertidal animals remaining. This is not a good idea, and foraging in general is an outdated concept that worked well when there were a lot fewer folks in the world. Foragers impact the environment by their many off trail footprints, by generally disturbing habitat, and by unnecessarily eating wild plants, oftentimes causing them to become scarce.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Jul 24, 2019 at 7:10 pm

But can't you say that about everything Downer, I mean Midtown Resident? I hope just like mushrooming, hunting fishing... interest grows, policy adjusts, people respect it. That's what I call Homeland Security. Or citizenship.

Besides, our people clammering to eat seaweed? Only in my dreams.

Thank you for awakening them.

Posted by tide pool harvest, a resident of Woodside,
on Jul 26, 2019 at 1:48 pm

> So you can just pick it up and eat it? Any of it?

Might be a tad salty for some taste buds but sure.

You can even make a 'wet' seaweed salad & consume it right on the spot.

If you happen to source a few clams, you can eat those raw as well.

No need for hot dogs at the beach...just the beer.

A forewarning...this kind of dining experience is not for everyone. Just saying.

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