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Seaweed – a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

July 4, 2014

Once I’d picked myself up off the floor having opened the invitation and itinerary to attend the SoSligo Food and Cultural Festival in June, the trip we were being taken on that really jumped out of the page was seaweed foraging with Prannie Rhatigan.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Sea or Mountain Woman?

I was born and reared within earshot of the sea and now living on top of a hill, almost an hour’s drive away from the coast, the deep yearning for sea air never goes away. I moved away from the seaside as a young child and my teenage years were spent close by to the salty marshes of Maldon, in North Essex, famed for its Sea Salt. I have no recollection of seaweed. Wistful memories tend to be of swimming every day with friends in the creeks, laying in bed listening to the bells ringing on stormy nights as they swayed violently on the tips of masts on yachts moored close by. Depending upon the wind direction, the sound of hammers and drills could often be heard echoing around the village as men worked in the boatyard on barnacle encrusted barges that sat resting, out-of-place high in the air on cradles, paint peeling from their hulls. The sounds were mirrored by the screech of the seagulls as they fought for morsels of food thrown from small fishing boats that lazily bobbed by.

But seaweed? I’m guessing there must have been some lying around the muddy marshes but it certainly wasn’t something we ate.

Edible Seaweed

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?It came as a bit of surprise last year when I attended a fascinating talk about seaweed by Sally McKenna, author of Edible Greens, followed by a Japanese cookery demonstration by Fiona Uyema, that not only is seaweed edible, those in the know have eaten it for centuries and it’s packed full of properties that are tremendously good for us.

Prannie Rhatigan

Prannie Rhatigan

Prannie Rhatigan was reared by the sea too but unlike me, she grew up learning its secrets. She describes in the introduction of her wonderful book, Irish Seaweed Kitchen how, as a child, she would help her father harvest the glistening seaweed on the edge of the Atlantic ocean throughout the various seaweed seasons. These days, as well as practising as a medical doctor, Prannie is sharing her knowledge and having stood spellbound in welly boots on the slippery rocks, surrounded by an abundant carpet of free and now I know, almost completely edible carpet of seaweed, I can safely tell you she really knows her stuff.

Prannie is not only passionate about seaweed in its raw and cooked forms, she’s also convinced of its health benefits and although her medical training dictates that she works from an evidence base, she can see that evidence building. She’s looking forward to seeing the day when seaweeds have mainstream preventative and therapeutic roles as anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer and antivirals among other things.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?As we carefully wove our way around the slippery Sligo rocks, Prannie introduced us to the magnificent gifts from the sea that lay strewn around us, ensuring that we understood how to harvest seaweed responsibly, explaining that it wasn’t to be pulled out by its roots or from its mother plant, but snipped carefully and sustainably.

 

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?The waterproof Companion Guide to Edible Seaweeds that’s recently been launched to accompany The Seaweed Kitchen has an illustration showing exactly where to cut each variety of seaweed with scissors, an invaluable guide to anyone new to seaweed foraging.

Seaweed might be free, but taking anything from the seashore in Ireland should be done so respectfully and sustainably and Prannie was keen to point that out (see here for the Irish legislation about seaweed harvesting).

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Sea spaghetti growing out from it’s parent plant

I could spend pages extolling the virtues of this cook book and guide with a difference, from its thoughtful bookmark that gives quick tips on preparing seaweed to the tried and tested recipes that include starters, canapés and deserts, compiled from local people’s favourite gems, or the thoughtful illustrations and photographs. The book and guide haven’t left my bedside since I arrived home as I’ve loved every moment dipping in and out of them, bringing me back to the seashore every time I do so.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?During the foraging trip Prannie introduced us to her power packed green smoothie, sea spaghetti and cheese straws, as well as bladderwrack soaked in brandy. Who needs olives when you live by the sea…

You might wonder why someone who lives inland is so excited about a seaweed cookbook and the chances of foraging will be rare? Thankfully there are people who’ve created a business with folk like us in mind, selling little bags of dried seaweed that we can buy from specialist shops and online stores, re-hydrating them when we’d like. I now have a bag of sea spaghetti waiting to be turned into a salad dish I spotted in Prannie’s book, once I harvest my own cosmic purple carrots.

Seaweed - a new kind of edible or a centuries old secret?

Bladderwrack & raspberries in elderflower fizz

If you’re interested in learning more about seaweed, there are several opportunities for you to forage along the clean waters of the Wild Atlantic Way. Prannie herself will be hosting a rather special sounding two-day course in the summer that would be a wonderful treat for someone special (treat yourself perhaps) or there are several other foragers dotted along the coastline. Failing that, buy the companion guide or a seaweed foraging book and see what you can find for yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about our seaweed walk, Irish TV accompanied us on our Sligo tour and you can view the episode below (usually found on Sky Channel 191). Susan from the Vibrant Ireland blog has also covered the foraging trip in a post here and has included a garlicy seaweed recipe conjured up by her husband Terry.

Have you discovered the hidden qualities of seaweed yet? Are you tempted?

 

Community Gardens

5 Reasons Why Community Gardens are Good For Us

January 22, 2014

Community Gardening - Not Alone

Before I begin, it seems appropriate to mention what exactly community gardens are… Firstly they’re not places “where old folk hang out” as has been suggested by a couple of people – far from it 😉

Community gardens attract people from the entire social economic spectrum, irrespective of race, gender, religion or age. I’ve talked on several radio shows including our local KCLR and Kilkenny City Community Radio stations as well as Dublin FM’s Sodshow about the differences between community gardens, allotments and community gardening allotments. In short, a community garden is where people come together to grow food and flowers, they share all the work and they share the produce.

But don’t just listen to me, read the facts. There’s been a great deal of research undertaken on the benefits of this form of collective gardening.

1. Community Gardeners Weigh Less – Yes, it’s true (oops, better hide that biscuit tin…!!). At a time when obesity is very much in the headlines the University of Utah published a report in 2013 with findings that community gardeners have a significantly lower body mass index than their non-gardening neighbours – up to 11lbs in women and 16lbs in men!

2. Community gardens help to reduce stress – I know it and anyone else who gardens knows it, I’ve written numerous blog posts about it too, but there are several research studies that now prove gardening is great for our mental well-being, self-esteem and overall mood. A report published in 2011 by van den Berg and Clusters provided the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress, either by working on or just being in an allotment (community) garden.

5 Reasons Why You Should Find a Community Garden3. Community gardeners eat better – A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour showed that adults with a household member who participated in a community garden consumed fruit and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not take part, and they were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least five times daily.

4. Community Gardens are Social Levellers – It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher or a technician, a farmer or a forester, a managing director or a maintenance worker, once in a garden we’re all the same. I’ve seen people working alongside one another for over a year before they’ve found out what their gardening neighbour does outside of the garden. Why has it taken that long? Because once you’re in a community garden it’s all about the fresh air and the soil, nature, cooking, fresh food that’s been grown without chemicals, the environment and beautiful plants and the community at large.

5. People Learn how to garden – growing your own in a quiet allotment or your back garden can be quite a lonely existence until you find other like-minded souls to chat with about their experiences. When you join a community garden you’re surrounded by people of all abilities – from complete beginners to lifetime growers and they’re all happy to share their experience and knowledge. Community gardens often have gardening tutors on site or run courses to help gardeners increase their skills and knowledge – they’re rarely left to figure it all out on their own.

Reasons Community Gardens are Good For UsThere are many reasons why community gardens are good for us, several of which are listed in the tabs at the top of the page above under the Community Garden heading.

Still not sure? A Reuters video explains why people are community gardening in the U.S. and why it’s so popular there. What do you think, would you like to see a community coming together to grow and share here in Ireland?

If you’re interested in community gardening in Ireland and not sure where to find one, take a look at the Community Garden Network site or contact me for more details.