Seaweed Harvesting

copyright Jane Lindley Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island, WA

Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island, WA.

The magic of my weekend on Lopez Island at Spencer Spit State Park with Passionate Nutrition learning  about seaweed harvesting is waning as I reach into the now slimy bag of cold Nereocystis luetkeana (bull kelp) fronds to hang them on a line to dry. However, my eye is on the prize: mineral-rich dried seaweed that will go into all my food for a year.

My deck as a kelp processing area.

My deck becomes a kelp processing area.

You know what’s great? The fronds (harvested sustainably, of course!) from one bull kelp are enough seaweed for one person for a year. Neat, right?

You know what else is neat? All seaweed is edible.* Some apparently doesn’t taste as good as others but it won’t kill ya – very freeing. Plus, you can eat it straight from the sea. No rinsing necessary, or really even desired. How did I not know this already?!?

kelp bed, harvesting seaweed

Sitting in a kelp bed. Our leader Jennifer Adler in foreground in blue cap.

What did I mean by harvested sustainably? As Jennifer Adler, owner of Passionate Nutrition and our intrepid leader for the weekend says, “just give seaweed a haircut.” A nice visual for: don’t rip it out by the roots (holdfast for you seaweed experts).

harvesting bull kelp

Piling up one bull kelp’s worth of fronds onto my spray skirt while Holly steadies the boat.

When foraging bull kelp fronds in particular, be careful not to cut the stipe, which is the long cord that attaches the fronds to the holdfast or the bulbous float, which is filled with CO2 and keeps the fronds floating on the surface of the water. Cutting either of those will kill the kelp.

I don’t want you to think you can only harvest seaweed from a kayak. The following day we harvested seaweed at low tide on Agate Beach and had the good fortune of seeing a red octopus chasing crabs through the seaweed. There we harvested sugar kelp, sea lettuce, nori, Turkish towel (good for scrubbing), and rockweed to name a few. Remember, before you harvest to take a look around to see if the area is healthy. One with no open sewer systems, and a variety of seaweed present. For instance, if only sea lettuce, one of the hardier seaweeds, is present it means the ecology has been compromised – look for diversity to find a healthy ecosystem.

Seaweed-ize that Meal

seaweed menu

Our menu for the weekend. Seaweed in parentheses.

One of the best things about the weekend was learning how easy it is to incorporate seaweed into every meal. So easy. All the meals included seaweed and special recipes weren’t needed. Just create a salad as usual then add powered seaweed to the dressing or fresh seaweed to the salad itself or bake it into bread, muffins, falafel – you name it. Other than the chopped fresh kale in our oatmeal and the nori wraps, I would not have known there was seaweed in every dish if Jennifer hadn’t pointed it out before each meal.

drying kelp

My first kelp harvest :-)

Most of us think of sushi or Japanese dishes when we think of eating seaweed. And, even though my husband and I enjoy seaweed salads from Uwajimaya, in Seattle, neither of us had thought to use seaweed in all our meals. What an eye-opener – to think some of the most mineral-dense food can be part of every meal. Many nutritionists call seaweed a superfood as it’s hard to get the trace minerals our bodies need in any other food. Minerals such as iodine, which is great for protecting our bodies against radiation in the atmosphere (apparently Fukushima’s radiation has drifted over to the Pacific NW).

Kale is groovy but kelp has my vote. Got kelp?

got kelp

got kelp?

Oh, and I couldn’t seem to help myself — I made Got Kelp? t-shirts (you know just a little something for the gym). You CAN’T get you’re very own to let people know why you’re kicking their butts — you’re kelp-powered because the attorneys for “got milk?” are threatening to sue. I guess no one can use “got__?” that sentence has been removed from the English language – I’m looking into their copyright claim.

seaweed license

If you harvest seaweed, you’ll need a license.

*Seaweed should be harvested far away from populated areas to reduce the amount of pollutants it absorbs. Like all living things, seaweed ingests pollutants right along with the air and water it inhabits. For those of us in King and Kitsap counties Jennifer suggested we harvest north of Port Townsend. “Poof!” My daydream about harvesting right off the shores of Bainbridge Island disappeared.

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4 Responses to Seaweed Harvesting

  1. Leanne Scott-Engen says:

    It was great meeting you this past weekend. Loved your blog. Great stuff !

  2. Deb Rudnick says:

    Great post Jane! I totally want to harvest some seaweed now! I love eating it, but I usually go to the asian section to buy it in the grocery store- this is way better. I do want to mention that Im not aware of any evidence that Fukushima radiation has made it to the PNW in levels high enough to be any kind of health concern, nor is it likely to get to that level. See: But regardless, seaweed is still full of healthy minerals!

  3. Jane Lindley says:

    You are so right. Early on I read about radiation moving our way but I guess it hasn’t (maybe will never) made it to our shores at worrisome level. The person associated with RadCast emailed the group to say “I just received word from the lab last evening that the seaweed we collected doesn’t contain any radioactive isotopes (e.g. Fukushima cesium) and that the radiation detected is equivalent to background levels. In other words, eat away!” So, no radiation in our kelp – yay! Whew! So handy to have scientists about. :-)