We were out yesterday with a number of friends celebrating May Day Bank Holiday on the beach. Prepared for some sea vegetable foraging (it was just too chilly to think of swimming) I had a bucket filled with bladderwrack in a matter of minutes. Bladderwrack isn't difficult to find. It is ubiquitous to the coastline around Ireland and available all year but early summer is the best time to forage Bladderwrack if you are collecting it for medicinal use. May day offered perfect timing. For culinary use it could be arugued that early summer is the least appropriate time to eat bladderwrack due to the iodine content (but more on that in a second).
My family is no different to most in that we tend to have a "Uggh!" approach to all things sea veg which is a shame as seaweed is possibly the most abundant, most nutritious food source for those seeking to be self-sufficient. We may have used it previously as a source of fertiliser but incorporating it into our regular diet has been a little more difficult. I have manged to convince people to consume soups and stews made with a stock rich in seaweed and occasionally offered the odd portion of seaweed salted chips but beyond that has proven unfruitful.
Bladderwack (Fucus vesiculosus) is not classified as a plant, but as a seaweed and Heterocont (a large group of eukaryotic organisims many of which include algae and plankton). It features paired air-bladders on either side of the mid-rib and whilst easy to identify might be confused a little with Fucus spiralis which tends to be a bit smaller without air-bladders along the frond but swollen tips on the branches.
It can be eaten fresh or dried and used as medicine. Bladderwack is a specific herb for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) due to its high iodine content. Taking it medicinally however should be monitored by a healthcare professional and prescriptions should be reviewed every 3-4 weeks if taking it as an iodine supplement. The iodine content is more concentrated in the new growth at the ends of the fronds in early summer - hence the reccommendation to perhaps eat less of it at this time (unless using it medicinally) as the iodine content may cause hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Its metabolic promoting activity means use of bladderwrack is often associated iwth weight loss.
This little sea veg has been been used to relieve symptoms of rheumatic complaints, both taken internally and applied externally to sore inflammed joints. It improves blood vessle walls and skin elasticity. Seaweed baths are an excellent way to tread skin problems and used internally it can help lower cholesterol and prevent strokes. Bladderwrack has also been known to stimulate the immune system in the treatement of both bacterial and fungal infections as well as reduce the growth and proliferation of oestrogen dependant cancer cells, as well as sarcoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and non-small-cell bronchopulmonary carcinoma.
Harvesting Bladderwrack couldn't be simpler. Wait for the tide to go out and harvest the fronds at low tide. Do not try to pick up decomposing seaweed unattached to the rock or the sea-bed as it will have already begun decomposing. Once picked you rinse off any grit, impurities or little critters and hand the seaweed on a line or dehydrate. The weather hasn't been kind to us this week so I've opted for the dehydrator. Once it is dry and brittle it can be stored in a sealed container, either whole, crushed or powdered.
Bladderwrack also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, sulphur, iron, manganese, chromium, zinc and copper.