Posts Tagged ‘seaweed’

It’s not unusual to find tangled seaweeds and seagrasses on Nova Scotia’s beaches.  Irish moss, sugar kelp, rockweed and eelgrass are all common finds.  Loosened from their strongholds, they are often washed onto the beaches by the waves at high tide, appearing either individually or with others in the strandline.

On this small stone beach in Cow Bay, there is often a narrow strip of seaweed.  However, what I found this week was far from ordinary.  A massive heap of seaweed consisting mostly of the brown variety lay in a distinct mound on the shore.  The heap appeared a few feet high in some spots.  Thrown onto the beach during our recent stormy weather, this is the thickest stack of seaweed I’ve ever seen over my years of visiting our local beaches. 

Though seaweed is growing in popularity as a health food in the western world, and has traditionally been used by gardeners for fertilizing the soil, this mound will likely be on the beach for some time.  As it’s so thick, the seaweed probably won’t have a chance to dry out during low tide.  Despite the cold weather, kelp flies were swarming around the already rotting mass when I took these photos on Wednesday.

Seaweed scattered along Conrad Beach near Lawrencetown in November

Last month, Em of Diabetes Dialogue, offered some excellent information pertaining to the health benefits of seaweed:

“As I understand it, all seaweeds are edible, but they must be gathered from pollution free waters. http://www.ryandrum.com will give you good information and Dr. Ryan Drum, PhD is a professional person who is well acquainted with both coasts.

The Maine Sea Vegetables link on my post will also be helpful for you, as what grows in the Bay of Fundy likely grows on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore, at least to some degree.

Ryan says that not all seaweeds taste good, in the sense that some are very strong textures. The ones eaten by Native Americans, Europeans and Asians tend to be versions of the same species. Interesting, eh?

But, as I understand it, barring any natural or man-made pollution, you should be safe in collecting fresh seaweed — now, navigating the coastal rocks is another matter!

Ryan explains how to “harvest” and not kill the plant, which is critical as, evidently from about the 1980s onward, commercial businesses have been using Norwegian mechanical harvesters, all over the world, to indiscriminately “rape” the ocean. Whole species have “disappeared” and are at or near extinction just in order to show up as “organic” and “regular” fertilizer or be used in Caribbean natural-Viagra drinks (these species were over-harvested by hand). How incredibly maddening!

Dr. Drum says we need to demand laws to stop all this over-harvesting and to encourage marine farming of seaweed, as is done in parts of Japan, on strings or on matted net.

Why can’t business use the less-invasive technology, first?! I hate to think how much damage these companies have wrought, unabated. So Drum says that Maine is threatening a 5 year moratorium on all seaweed harvesting, which would be devastating to the responsible hand harvesters, who in a year probably don’t take as much as a mechanized harvester does in a day or so.

Anyway, as your estuary and possibly coastal area, seems quiet, maybe you can learn more and safely harvest your own.

As far as health is concerned, the more I read, the more I see that this primal plant, which has supported all Life, from it’s inception, is truly the most nourishing plant we could use everyday.”

For more information on using seaweed for fertilizing gardens, see Anne’s post on Winter Gardening at Nova Scotia Island Journal.


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lasagna seaweed1
If you stroll along the seashore this summer, you’ll probably not give the seaweeds or grasses beneath your feet a second thought. They often look messy, and their muted colors certainly don’t catch the eye of beachcombers looking for seashells and other treasures. But they are worth a closer look…

sugar kelp

Sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina) at Rainbow Haven Beach

This large seaweed looks exactly like the noodles used in lasagna, a dish first served by the Romans.  It is often washed up on Nova Scotia beaches during storms, but is also found on other Atlantic and Pacific coasts elsewhere in the world. 

The Italians cook so many different types of macaroni that were inspired by the sea.  The shells are obvious:  lumaconi (jumbo shells), conchiglie (medium shells) and lumachine (baby shells) among others.  Could lasagna noodles have been inspired by the sea as well?

Known as sugar kelp because of the sugar-like crystals that appear on its surface as it dries, this seaweed can been used as a weather predictor.  It will become soft and limp when rain is imminent, but dry and stiff when clear skies are on the horizon.  Regardless of the weather, it’s always a good time to enjoy lasagna.

irish moss

Irish Moss (Chondrus) and the rockweed Fucus on the shore at Rainbow Haven Beach

Irish Moss is another common seaweed found on our beaches.  Its reddish purple color is easy to notice among the many other types of seaweed.  If you eat ice-cream, you’ve most likely eaten Irish Moss.  It goes by the name of carrageenan on food labels.  Its gelling properties make it a popular thickener in many foods. However, some researchers have linked it to colitis and colon cancer in recent years.  Irish moss is raked in large quantities for commercial use on our shores.


Dried Eelgrass (Zostera) between rocks along the Salt Marsh Trail

Eelgrass is another sea plant that’s served an unlikely purpose. It was used as an effective insulator for many years and is still being replaced by newer forms of insulation between the walls of some older homes in Nova Scotia. For centuries it helped keep maritime homes warm and cozy while the winter winds howled outside.  It was once used to stuff mattresses as well.  These days it’s woven in some parts of the world for use in home furnishings.

These are just three of the many types of sea plants that wash up on Nova Scotia’s shores. Some, like Dulse and Ulva (sea lettuce) are eaten fresh. Dulse is also eaten dried and is easily found in local grocery stores. It was seaweed that kept many coastal people in Ireland from starving to death during the Great Potato Famine.

There’s certainly more to these sea plants than first meets the eye.

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ignoramus:  [Latin] one who cannot or will not follow complexity

The image of a tree usually comes to mind whenever we think of a branch, yet this shape is not limited to trees or even the realm of botany where it is sometimes called a ramus.  Deer antlers, lung bronchi, veins and coral are some of the many things on the planet that are found in the shape of branches.

coral and seaweed

Many examples can be found in the woods and along the seashore in Nova Scotia.  Ferns, seaweed, tree limbs and roots all reveal the branch shape, which, in its simplest form, involves a division of one stem into two parts.  Each part can divide itself again, becoming more and more complex with each subsequent division.  Other words used to describe types of branches include sprig, spray, twig and bough.  In mathematics, branches are known as approximate fractals.

balsam fir

The branch is one of several interesting shapes that are found repeatedly in nature.  These shapes often form exquisite patterns and many are building blocks for larger things.  In previous weeks I’ve written about the spiral and the meander

In the Saturdays between now and mid-summer’s eve, I’ll explore a number of other shapes found in nature as a lead-up to a Summer Scavenger Hunt. Details of the hunt will be disclosed on June 20th, Midsummer’s Eve.  There will be prizes.

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