Bladderwrack: Gift from the Sea

This past week my family and I got away for one last beach get-away to Maine. I love the languid and liminal days of late summer on the coast when the Rose Hips start to ripen and the ocean-side Goldenrod is in bloom- it’s my favorite time to visit. So subsequently it’s when I tend to harvest my seaweed! That being said, many folks prefer to harvest Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) in the spring and early summer, however, it’s definitely possible to harvest this seaweed well into August.

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Bladderwrack: Identification, Habitat & Range

Look for this seaweed growing on rocks in the inter-tidal zone, the area of the shore effected by the tides. Here on the eastern coast of the US it’s found south to about North Carolina and north all the way up the Canadian coast. It grows on the coast of the British Isles, the Atlantic coast of Europe, Iceland, southern Greenland, and the northern coasts of Norway, Finland, and Russia as well. On the west coast of the US a related species, Fucus gardneri, is used. Our local Bladderwrack (F. vesiculosus) is easily identified by the air bladders ranging in size from a pea to a marble found in pairs along the mid-rib of the thallus (the entire vegetative body of a seaweed). There can be some variation, however. Occasionally the bladders are not found in pairs, and their amount will vary based on the turgidity of the water- the more active the wave action the fewer bladders will be found. It grows along with other Fucus spp seaweeds but is the only one with the air bladders present. The fronds tend to be dichotomously branched and can grow to be about 35 in long and 1.0 in wide and have mucilage-rich vesicles at their tips. It’s a perennial macroalgae that tends to live 4-5 years.

Bladderwrack  (F. vesiculosis) . Note the air bladders along the mid-rib and the swollen vesicles at the tips on the fronds

Bladderwrack (F. vesiculosis). Note the air bladders along the mid-rib and the swollen vesicles at the tips on the fronds

Sustainably Harvesting Bladderwrack

Bladderwrack is best harvested in the spring and early summer when the vesicles are nice and plump. However, if need or circumstances be, it can be harvested well into late summer. As it reaches maturity the vesicles will elongate, so the more long and pointed the vesicles the older the seaweed. The bottom-line though is that as long as the thallus is vibrant-looking (see the pictures above and below for an idea of what I mean by vibrant), it’s fine to harvest if that’s when you’re by the sea!

Bladderwrack growing on a cliff edge with Rockweed  (Ascophyllum nodosum)

Bladderwrack growing on a cliff edge with Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum)

Waiting for low tide will give you the best access to Bladderwrack, which grows on rocks and along coves, generally mixed with other seaweeds such as Spiralwrack (Fucus spiralis ) and Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) . When harvesting this-or any seaweed- it’s important that you never pull the holdfast, which is where it attaches to the rock, since this will completely kill the organism. Rather, you want to give it a gentle haircut with scissors or garden clippers, taking about 1/2 of the thallus, which will allow it to grow back. I like to harvest into a basket or even a brown paper bag. Give it all a good rinse in the seawater to remove any excess sand and also to wash off any organisms, like snails, from the seaweed. DO NOT wash in fresh water as this will cause it to begin to breakdown! Then, if you’re going to stay at the beach for a bit, you can lay it in a thin layer on a towel or blanket in the sun to begin to dry it.

Never take all the Bladderwrack from a rock, wall or area, remembering that good harvesting practices mean it was never even obvious that you harvested at all! Think of yourself like a browsing deer wandering through a meadow, taking a little bit from here, a little bit from there, and so on. Take care if you are walking on seaweed-covered slippery walks while harvesting. And never take more that you need! In Maine harvest for personal use is permitted and commercial harvest requires a permit. Always be sure you are harvesting in an area free of industrial waste and pollution and harvesting far from urban centers is strongly recommended.

Bladderwrack and other intertidal zone seaweeds growing on rocks at low tide

Bladderwrack and other intertidal zone seaweeds growing on rocks at low tide

Drying & Storage

It’s traditional to hang seaweed in the sun on a line to dry. In warm, dry climates it can dry in this way in a day but here in the northeast not so much! While it’s true that seaweed left out on a line will absorb some moisture from the morning dew, it’s not enough to cause any worry and a few days dried in the sun in this way tends to be enough. If it’s cloudy and overcast, then it will take longer and if rain is projected then it should be brought inside and re-hung after the rain. On my most recent trip to Maine we were camping so I hung it on a line to dry. It wasn’t completely dried by the time I got home so I opted to spread it in a thin layer in some large baskets and put it in my hoophouse, which is warm and dry and sheltered from the rain. At least once a day I tossed the Bladderwrack around a bit in the basket, since the parts more exposed to air dry quicker, and this allowed it to evenly dry. It finished drying in a just a few days in this manner. While it’s true that the least amount of time it takes to dry, the better for the final quality of your seaweed, it’s important to remember that anything your harvest yourself will be so incredibly fresh and superior to most herbs sold in the herbal industry. So don’t worry if it take a little while to dry!

Bladderwrack hung to dry on the line

Bladderwrack hung to dry on the line

Once it’s dry enough to snap when you try to break the fronds it’s ready to be stored. You can cut it into small pieces and store it in glass jars away from high heat and strong direct light. It can also be stored in durable plastic bags, like ziplocks. Since Bladderwrack is very oily in nature it has a shelf-life of about 6 months, after which it runs the risk of going rancid. To avoid this tragedy, simply store it in the freezer once you hit the 6 month mark and use as-needed.

Medicinal Use

Bladderwrack is in the family of Brown Seaweeds, which also includes Kelp, Wakame, and Kombu, and shares many of the same medicinal properties as these other seaweeds. It has a long history of medicinal use, being written about in all the old herbal texts. Due to it’s high Iodine content Bladderwrack is best known for its benefit for goiter and low/hypothyroid. In addition to Iodine it’s also rich in many minerals and trace minerals, including potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, nitrogen, iron, zinc, boron, copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, bromine, vanadium, and nickel. It’s also extremely high in antioxidants and contains many of the B-complex vitamins, K, E, A, and D. Due to its super high mineral content Bladderwrack can be though of as a low-dose medicinal and food as medicine, since an excess of certain minerals can be harmful, and it’s also important to note it should not be taken during pregnancy or nursing.

Bladderwrack drying

Bladderwrack drying

Traditional dosage is about 3-6 grams/day. For a frame of reference, 1 tsp of the powder or a small handful of the fronds equates to about 3-4 g. In addition to being a superior nutrative, Bladderwrack  is rich in the polysaccharides fucoidan and algin, which have been widely studied and seem to be anti-cancer, anti-estrogenic, immune-boosting and strongly detoxifying. Studies link a diet that contains brown seaweed to strongly support cardiovascular health and lower rates of cancer. Bladderwrack also supports the muskuloskeletal system and has a history of helping folks with arthritis and injury, particularly when taken in a bath. Add ½-1 cup of the powder into a bath along with some epsom salts for a wonderfully relaxing and anti-inflammatory bath. For an idea on making your own inspired bath salts check-out my recipe and post on Mermaid Bath Salts! It’s also a nice soothing demulcent for irritations in the bladder, kidneys, and urinary system. In addition to taking the powder one can take the tincture (30-40 drops 2-4x/day), add it to a tea, make a cold infusion, and also use it in the kitchen. Bladderwrack can be added to broths and stocks, soups and stews (although it can take a while to cook until it’s tender), and the dried flakes can be sprinkled directly onto your food, added to traditional spice blends such as gomasio, furikake, togarishi, and so on!

Happy harvesting all!


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Beach Rose-Seaweed Mermaid Bath Salts

Summer in New England is fleeting and beautiful and- for me- is not complete without numerous visits to the ocean.  Maybe it’s because I’m a life-long New Englander, or because I grew-up going to the ocean every summer, or because I’m a water sign, or because the ocean never fails to put it all into perspective, and feel like a beyond nourishing and calming presence…but for me connecting with that ocean energy for just a few months a year never feels like enough! Hence the creation of Beach Rose-Seaweed Bath salts, which I affectionately call “mermaid bath salts.”  This is basically the ocean in a bottle!

 

These are so easy to make, and I really do encourage you all to make your own!  To make about about 1 quart of bath salts you'll need....

20-25 Beach Rose (Rosa rugosa) blossoms
2 handfuls of seaweed
1 handful of shells of choice
1.25 lbs of sea salt

Start by gathering your Beach Rose (Rosa rugosa) blossoms, but before you start picking take some time to sit with the plant. Engage with your senses- the smells, sounds, feelings, tastes (yes, taste the plant!) and sights. Try to align your energy with the roses. Simple tools for this include exchanging breath with rose (remembering we breathe in what they breath out, and vice versa!).  You can also sketch or photograph the plant, journal about your experience, nibble on a petal or leaf, meditate with it, or just take a little nap with it! These are all valid ways of engaging with the energy of a plant.  When you feel like you’ve tapped into rose’s energy, ask if you can harvest, and if you get a “yes” then go for it! It’s ok if you don’t get a clear voice in your head- just a feeling that it’s “right” is enough.   I prefer to harvest the whole flower, as opposed to just the petals, for this particular preparation. Next collect your seaweed- any kind will do. I prefer to take what has washed-up or is floating in the water as opposed to harvesting the living seaweed from the rocks as much as possible.  You can gather some special shells to add if you like- this year I added some of my beloved moon snails. And of course- as always- feel free to play around with this recipe and make it your own!

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you’re ready to make your bath salts!  The process is simple and takes 5 minutes. Start by adding about a 1 inch layer of sea salt to the bottom of your jar. You can use fine or coarse, Celtic, Himalayan, or any kind really. One of my current favorite sea salt brand is Redmond’s Real Salt, which comes from salt flats from ancient oceans in Utah! But in my wildest dreams I’m using my own homemade sea salt I’ve made myself by cooking down the seawater, but that time hasn’t come for me yet! Next add a ½- 1 inch layer of the roses, seaweed, and a sprinkling of shells if you’d like. Then add another layer of salt until the plant material is covered, then another rose/seaweed/shell layer, and so on, ending with a 1 inch layer of sea salt at the top! Cap and let sit at least a week before use. It will have the heady smell of seaweed and rose when it’s done.

Misty morning in Maine

Misty morning in Maine

When you’re ready to take your mermaid bath (I prefer to use mine in the dead of the New England winter when I need that summer and ocean connection, and the comforting feeling of the sea), add as much as you want to your bath. Be sure to add the roses and seaweed right into the bath too where they will re-hydrate for full mermaid effect!  (You can get little mesh screens that fit over your drain for easy clean-up.)  Sit in your bath and dream summer dreams and memories, and relax in the nourishment the beach and essence of summer has to give! And of course both rose and seaweed are emollients, and deeply nourishing and softening to the skin! 

Happy high summer to you all!


Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!

Beach Rose Love

Beach Rose Love

Summer 2015

It's been a beautiful, busy summer- too busy to blog much in-fact!  Its been full of travel, harvesting & medicine-making, time with my daughters and family, swim-dates, and teaching.  But I did manage to get a lot of pics and commentaries on the Milk & Honey Herbs Facebook page, and here is a wrap-up (and condensed version) all in one place!


Summer Nervines

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Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Family Verbenaceae
This is a potent nervine of summer, blooming late July and August. Blue Vervain is deeply calming and is a relaxant nervine, useful at night for insomnia and during the day for mild to acute anxiety. Its strong bitter components support the liver (a major organ of elimination and detoxification) and help us process all of our "stuff"- be it physical or emotional. This same liver-supportive action also makes it a useful ally for treating hormonal imbalance and I love using it to treat PMS, menstrual cramps, and menstrual irregularity- what an herb! The tea is quite bitter so I prefer to make a tincture out of this one. Look for it growing in wet meadows with Goldenrod, Boneset and sometimes Cattail.

 

Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa)
Family Poaceae
I was beyond thrilled to discover my oat patch in the milky oat stage! This is the same grass that gives us oatmeal, and when the seeds are harvested in the "milky stage" it makes one of the absolute finest restorative nerve tonics one can find.  It's a staple in my herbal practice and I use it for folks with anxiety and an over-all "frazzled" feeling in their nervous system. I also love it in combination with Skullcap (Scutellaria lateraflora) for withdrawal symptoms in those dosing down in meds, quitting smoking, and the like.

 

St Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
Family Hypericaceae
I am so in love with this plant! I use it mostly as a nervine (although it is a also a great hepatic), especially for those experiencing nerve pain, which the plant is a specific for. It has a long history of use in ancient herbals for "dispelling evil influences," which to me speaks to its well-known action as an anti-depressant. The flower essence (which is AMAZING!) helps with protection, especially if you suffer from nightmares, and also treats shock and burn-out that comes from a weakened energetic field. Anyone who knows the botany of this plants knows that the perforations in the leaf are a signature for this......think "perforations" in the energetic field.


Calendula Harvest

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Calendula officinalis

Calendula in olive oil. Oils are great base preparations that may then be used to make salves, creams, body butters, salt or sugar scrubs, or just used on their own. Calendula is an amazing wound healer, as well as an anti-microbial and anti-septic, and makes a fabulous all-purpose salve

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Calendula Flower Essence. Brings warmth and compassion to communication.


Elder Flower Cordial

Elder Flowers (Sambucus canadensis) contain enough natural yeast to make a "wild fermentation." This brew is just Elder Flowers, local raw honey, lemons, and water! Just be sure not to wash your fresh Elder Flower, as it will wash off the beneficial microbes that make fermenting with these particular flowers so easy!


Classes

HERBSTALK 2015

HERBSTALK 2015

Wild Edibles walk at Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival

Wild Edibles walk at Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival

Beautiful visiting students from the  Spiral Program  at Dig In Farm

Beautiful visiting students from the Spiral Program at Dig In Farm

Saying good-bye to summer, and looking forward to the gorgeous, resplendent Fall!


Looking for online herbal learning? Or just want to say “thanks” and help support this blog? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. And if you’ve got enough content in your life it’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!