SONOMA COUNTY, CA—It's 5:30 a.m. and I'm driving toward the coast. An orange sun is rising in my rearview mirror and through the windshield I can see a full silver moon sinking, pulling the veil of fog off the verdant hills. The gorgeous view is like the opening shot of a movie filmed in CinemaScope. The credits begin to roll:
The FruitGuys presents
a DIY adventure
How to get your own succulent sea vegetables from the worlds last remaining clean shores.
Here’s a good news sea story: you can get delectable and nutritious sea vegetables from the ocean, and they’re free. The Gulf Oil Spill makes an excursion to any ocean more poignant these days and when you see the treasures in the tide pools you will be even more grateful for the experience.
If you appreciate seaweed and live where you can reach some clean rocky ocean go and experience hunter-gathering first hand. May to July is peak seaweed season on both coasts, when both sea plants and land plants are getting their maximum sunshine and prospering. All you need is enthusiasm and an extreme low tide, ideally a 0 or minus tide.
Highly nutritious seaweed adds taste and important minerals to our diets. The same varieties for sale at specialty stores are available for the plucking. On the pacific shores you can find Kombu in abundance, Nori, Bladderack, Sea Lettuce, and Wakame. The craggy Atlantic shores don't have Nori, but they do get Dulse. Hundreds of species exist and all are edible, you only need to learn how to identify the most delicious ones.
Gathering Sea Veggies
- All seaweed is edible. Some taste better that others, or have a more desirable consistency but, unlike mushroom hunting, wild seaweed can't harm you. Pick only fresh seaweed exposed at low tides—avoid the stinky stuff that has washed up on shore, which is only good for compost.
- Tides. Once you locate a good rocky coastline, check your local tide schedule and always go with a buddy. Make sure you have plenty of time before the tide starts to come in. Dress for the environment and bring a set of dry clothes as a backup. Wear sneakers, water sandals or rubber boots for clambering over very slick rocks. Bring a knife or scissors and backpack or bag tied to your belt. Above all you want your hands free for navigating the tricky tidal terrain.
- Harvest sustainably. When wildcrafting, or picking native plants, use the Rule of Seven—if you count at least seven of a kind there's enough for you to take one. Don't be the one who ate the last Dodo egg. Cut the seaweed above the root so it can regenerate and rinse it in a tide pool before bagging it so that any little critters clinging to it have a chance to stay at the beach.
- Restrictions. Check with your local fish & game or marine resources department about possible restrictions on species or habitat. In California, for example, Sea Palms are protected and may not be taken. Along the Sonoma County coast, individuals are entitled to take 10 pounds (which is plenty) without a commercial license. Protected Marine habitats such as Pt. Reyes National Seashore do not allow gathering.
- Preparation. Get your haul home right away. Rinse, rinse, and rinse—but do not soak. Spread seaweed out on a screen or towel to dry. Once dry, place in a labeled airtight jar where it can keep for months. Be sure to send some to your in-land friends.