We are excited to share tips on harvesting and cooking with seaweeds, which are plentiful on Tlingit Ani lands. Various studies find seaweed to be rich in nutrients, especially vitamin B-12.
Sitkan Scott Brylinsky shares his knowledge with us on harvesting, drying, and cooking with Porphyra, a group of seaweeds that grow in cold, shallow seawater. Scott once spent several months in the wilderness surviving off of wild foods, including seaweeds as his prime vegetable. Thank you so much to Scott for writing and sharing the following knowledge and photos of Porphyra and recipes:
There are many types of Porphyra and all species are good to eat. They are among the most abundant and common of the good tasting seaweeds. You can find it at its prime March through May. Identifying characteristics include stretchy, translucent, and dingy in color (grey, green, brown, red, and sometimes green and brown together).
Things to keep in mind when harvesting:
- Harvest conservatively - only take a few plants from each patch, and if there is evidence of other’s gathering skip that place.
- Harvest away from commonly visited areas - this means not in parks (where it is generally prohibited anyway), not along trails, not on popular beaches. If you are young and mobile, avoid areas that might be the most accessible for elders.
An observation on handling seaweeds: Texture can be a barrier to deciding to harvest seaweeds. When handling, it is decidedly different from other foods, often feeling slimy or sticky, which can be unappetizing. Dried, the texture is more familiar.
A particularly flavorful type of Porphyra grows only on bull kelp stipes. Its latin name is Porphyra nereocystis, which reflects its epiphytic (''grows on”) relationship with bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana. Like other Porphyras, it is dingy in color (in this case red), translucent, and stretchy. It is seldom found in large quantities in one spot, but a great find for those in small boats.
Initially, I dry it over the wood stove, then I do what I call a final “hard” dry using a cast iron skillet to get the last moisture out and make it crispy dry.
Cooking and Nutrition
Porphyra is good to eat after drying, and is especially crunchy out of the airtight jar it’s been dried in. It can be crumbled up and added to things. Favorites to add it to are:
- Fish salad – crumble up a teaspoon or two and mix in.
- Tomato based dishes – tomato sauce, pizza topping, fried potatoes, or beans.
Fresh seaweed doesn’t cook up so good as a stand alone dish, in personal experience. Alone, seaweed simply isn’t as appetizing looking or tasting as it is when mixed with other things, like fried potatoes, beans, soups, or sauces.
Herring eggs on macrocystis seaweed in spaghetti sauce – a family favorite
You can get creative with other wild foods. This recipe combines abalone, limpet, and seaweed (Porphyra).
Step 1: Cook the limpets face down in a frying pan to get them out of their shells. Note: Limpets are small and not abundant enough to warrant gathering unless you’re off the beaten track. They make for a fun infrequent treat.
Step 2: Chop everything with some onion, and it's ready for the frying pan.
The final dish - delicious! The seaweed is a perfect addition.
I once experimented eating seaweeds as my only vegetable for two months, and nearly my only vegetable for four months. I was healthy during that time, and I have no doubt I was getting a full complement of vitamins and minerals from the seaweeds I was eating.
We are also sharing the following video of Bob Ellis, a long time SCS board member and supporter of SCS passionate about seaweed harvesting in Southeast Alaska. He recently passed away, but a few years ago, worked with the SCS 4H leaders to make a video to help teach the next generation of Alaskans about harvesting seaweeds. Bob is remembered through the Living Wilderness Fund.
For more information on Bob: https://www.sitkawild.org/robert_j_ellis
For more information on the Living Wilderness Fund: https://www.sitkawild.org/living_wilderness_fund