Maine Coast Sea Vegetables

By Larch Hanson

Through seaweeds, an excellent source of trace minerals, the earth’s sea-blood is able to strengthen our bodies’ own sea-blood. The rain leaches the minerals from the land. They then are wash down to the sea, where they are incorporated by the wild seaweeds and ultimately by our bodies when we take advantage of their remarkable nutritional benefits. The seaweed minerals help us to maintain an alkaline condition resistant to fatigue and stress. In this article, I would like to explain how Main Coast Sea Vegetables are harvested and point out some basic yet amazing facts about sea vegetables.

A phrase that tickles me is “organic seaweed”. What does that mean? I have in front of me a copy of the Organic Crop Improvement Association’s (OCIA) AOrganic Guidelines for “Wild Sea Vegetables”. Nowhere do the standards say that a seaweed harvester should use a separate container boat, detached and far away from the power boat, while harvesting, so that there is no possibility of gas/oil contamination from the exhaust of the outboard motor. Think about it: A few drops of gas or oil on the surface of the water can create an oil slick on a kelp bed. And yes, some so-called “organic” harvesters do, in fact, harvest directly into their power boats without use of a separate container boat.

The OCIA standards also allow a harvester to work three miles from an industrial discharge area, two miles from a city or town sewage discharge, three miles from a major harbor, and twenty miles from a nuclear facility! Have you ever checked out Portland or Boston Harbor? Not much can grow there, and you wouldn’t eat it if it did! These distances from sources of pollution are not enough.

In another section of the standards, I find this sentence: “Any net material should be either preservative free or have been weathered at least three years before use with sea vegetables”. What does this mean? On Grand Manan Island, some dulse harvesters use old herring weir nets spread over beach rock to dry dulse. These fish trap nets were originally treated with toxic chemicals so that they wouldn’t support the growth of algae! Does it make you feel secure to know that the nets have been “Weathered” for three years? After three years,the nets still don’t support the growth of algae. So why should we believe that they are no longer toxic?

This year, the FDA is setting organic standards, and the current proposed standards include allowing the use of sewage sludge on organic fields, genetic engineering, and food irradiation. Since words like “organic” are losing their integrity, all I can recommend is that you get to know your grower, know your harvester. Find a farmer or a sea harvester whose standards are HIGHER than so-called “organic” standards.

My standards are higher than organic standards in many ways. When I harvest, I use separate container boats. They are made of wood and oiled with raw linseed oil and I row them to the plant beds. The plants are hung up to sun and wind and are dry within two days after they are harvested. When I use nets for drying, they are made of untreated nylon. The water is very clear. On a calm day, I see boulders and ledges 25 feet under the surface. There are no nuclear facilities, no industrial discharge areas, no city sewage discharge areas anywhere near the islands where I harvest, thirty miles east of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

The population is sparse here, and in the early spring, April and May, I have the territory all to myself. When the lobster boats come into the bays in mid-June, I am already done with the kelp harvest, and I head to the outer islands for alaria and dulse. I have no interest in aquaculturing seaweeds, because aquaculture requires fairly sheltered situations, and that means more stagnation, less tidal flow. Nope. Give me the open surf. At age 52, I still enjoy working in the water. I,m training apprentices to continue the work after me.

Last winter I gave a slide talk to several groups in Florida. One question that people asked was, “How do you store seaweeds”? The answer is, “In cool, dry and dark places”. Many people find it difficult to store three pounds of seaweed and keep it dry, so this year I am offering a solution: Reusable white plastic tubs with tight fitting lids. It’s a solution for the person with a small kitchen who normally shops at the health food store for small quantities of seaweed.

Now I would like to familiarize you with the nutritional aspects of sea vegetables:

As mentioned in the Winter 97 newsletter, sea vegetables can assist the body in ridding itself of radioactivity. Strontium 90 is released in nuclear accidents as well as in the running of nuclear power plants. It has a high affinity for calcium. When released into the air, it is easily concentrated in calcium-rich foods such as milk and leafy greens. Eat these contaminated foods, and the radioactivity, now combined with calcium, enters the bone marrow where it can damage delicate immune and blood cells. Consistently eating seaweed helps eliminate any radioactive particles already absorbed, repairs damage to bone marrow, and prevents further absorption of strontium 90. Research at McGill University finds that alginic acid, one of the main components of seaweed, binds with radioactive strontium to form strontium alginate, an insoluble compound, which is rapidly eliminated from the gastro-intestinal tract, reducing the absorption of strontium 90 by fifty to ninety percent.

Daily use of seaweed provides optimum nourishment for the hormonal, lymphatic, urinary, circulatory, and nervous systems. Seaweed also inhibits the growth of many viruses as well as gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. This directly assists the immune system, as does seaweed’s anti-oxidant ability. Seaweed has a soothing effect on the digestive system. Any restricted diet is improved by the addition of even a little seaweed. Seaweed creates an inner environment where nerve signals flow more smoothly and brain chemicals are produced as needed. Seaweed can dissolve fatty build-ups in the body.

Kelp is high in calcium: 942 mg./100 gm. Alaria has even more: 1100 mg./100 gm. Kelp is high in carotenes expressed as Vitamin A (140-8487 I.U.), and also supplies at least average amounts of virtually every other vitamin including the B Complex: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12. They contain vitamins C, K, and E as well. Eating one tablespoon of sea vegetables will provide you with your daily dose of Iodine.

Seaweeds have undeniably admirable qualities: they are flexible, tenacious and prolific. You could almost say that they are the “ultimate vegetable”. By eating properly harvested organic sea vegetables, you will being doing your body such a tremendous favor, that it will surely thank you for it with good health.