A briny smell wafts from the laundry room sink as I rinse the grit from my fresh harvest of seaweed. Unfurling the fragile nori, I wash out the sand and shells ensconced in the wrinkled clump. After rinsing, I arrange my “catch” on a towel outside. The plants lay like limp fish out of water. Soon the afternoon sun transforms their tendrils from murky green to crispy black.
Drying seaweed is actually the end of the story. It is, however, one of many skills I learned during SHED’s Edible Seaweed Forage with Heidi Herrmann. Once harvested, seaweed should be washed and dried so it can be eaten throughout the year. A local seaweed expert, Heidi Herrmann of Strong Arm Farm, taught us about sustainable harvesting and how to cook with seaweed. It was an invigorating experience to climb over rocks, wade in the ocean, and nibble on the wild plants.
The morning of the forage was bright, clear, and beautiful. As I drove westward, the landscapes changed dramatically. The neat vineyards turned to forest villages, and finally, the Sonoma coast came into view. The motley crew of fellow foragers met at Shell Beach at 7:30 am. Since seaweed harvesting is dependent on the time of the tides, we arrived early to get a break in the ebb and flow. Consulting her pocket tide book, Heidi gestured toward today’s date and the time of the tides. We had about an hour to get in and get out.
I breached the parking lot overlook and began my descent towards the sea. Scuttling down the haphazard steps I took in my surroundings. A dramatic canvas of green vegetation swept down the valley. Delicate purple flowers sprouted along the path and massive rocky outcrops jutted up from the water offshore.
Once on the beach, Heidi taught us how to identify different varieties. Then, she instructed how cut the plants in a way that allows regrowth. Equipped with scissors, ziplock bags, and a sharpie, I began bagging samples. At times it felt like a coastal crime scene: I was the investigator and the seaweed was the evidence.
We came across several varieties:
- sister Sarah, a frilly, crunchy variety that resembles a wreath
- kombu, a slimy, leathery variety that resembles a belt
- bladderwrack, a leafy variety with an unfortunate name
- nori, a smooth, shiny, and paper thin variety the resembles decorative wrapping paper.
As the tide came back, we packed our harvest and turned to Heidi for our final lesson of the day. She asked us each to reflect on our experience with gratitude for each other, the superb day, and the generous ocean. Foraging should not be taken for granted. Only by respecting the seasons, the tides, and the environment can we continue to enjoy edible seaweed.