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  • Writer's pictureLinda Conroy

Sea and Her Weeds

Two of my greatest teachers.

Annually, for close to a decade I have taken a pilgrimage to an Island located in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. I travel to this island in order to be close to the Sea and Her Weeds. Two of my greatest teachers.

The benefits of harvesting and spending time with the sea and her weeds are immeasurable. For the past seven years I have shared this magic with other women. I invite them as part of a week long program to spend time with bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) as well as the other sea loving and seaside plants. Year after year women come and join this journey. We sleep on the earth and live by the tides. We dig clams, harvest seaweed and stir fry them together for our meals. We hang kelp, nori, fucus and other seaweeds to dry. We harvest fresh berries and primarily eat food that comes from the island. A place of magic where the sea meets the land.

Each year, when I visit Lopez Island I visit the bullwhip kelp beds. From afar the kelp is filled with wonder and mystique.. I hike to the waters edge and view the magnificent beds from the top of a cliff. From a distance there appears to be a group of beautiful women dancing in the water.

When viewing from this distance, one would never guess that there is a unique, diverse ecosystem happening amongst these floating beauties. But get close enough to merge with this habitat and you will find it burgeoning with life

In order to experience this mystery first hand I travel to the bullwhip kelp beds in a kayak. As I sit in my boat and glide along the water I feel as if I have merged with the sea. I often witness eagles flying and purple star fish attached to the rocks waiting in anticipation of the incoming tides.

During the winter months I dream of spring and the day I will once again launch from the shores and head toward the kelp beds. I feel a sense of longing for the ebb and flow that cradles me when I sit in the arms of the sea. The seaside provides an opportunity for me to have abundance reflected. .

The habitat of bullwhip kelp is rich and diverse, it continually amazes me. For example bullwhip kelp has a symbiotic relationship with a particular species of nori that lives only on the fronds or “leaves” of Bullwhip Kelp.

The structure of the seaweeds are simple yet complex . The holdfast or “stem” on each variety of seaweed is unique and is most amazing in the case of bullwhip kelp. It holds to the floor of the sea 100 feet or more of heavy seaweed while the strong currents of the intertidal zone run through her fronds.

Other critters spend time here and I watch them. Sometimes I pull crabs known as kelp crabs into my boat as I lift her long fronds onto my lap and let them slide to the floor. When I am in the grasp of the sea I know that while this weed reaches the depths, it is only a small holdfast that keeps her anchored to the bottom. It is amazing that despite the strong current much of the forest will remain for the full season, until spores fall to the floor and deposit themselves on the rocks.

Nature gifts us with these weeds. They are abundant, yet fragile. A whole ecosystem thrives in her midst. Yet with a single suction commercial harvesters can wipe it out in a few minutes. Hand harvesters like myself tend the forest, pruning, but leaving plenty behind to self-sow.

As her leaves, which are technically called fronds dance with the current, they keep wave action to a minimum. If I sit long enough I can literally watch the fronds grow. Some say they grow as many as 18 inches per day. I am able to sit and anchor to the stipe or stem which is held above water by the bulb. This bulb and the stipe are filled with gas that includes carbon monoxide; hard to imagine that a gas we consider noxious contributes to the ability of this plant to survive, but that is nature’s way. This adaptation keeps the plant afloat.

The forest is filled with life. The canopy of the forest shades the life below and keeps other algae from growing here. The life that thrives below receives filtered light through her leaves and protection from predators. Sea Otters were once abundant in these beds and provided protection to the bullwhip kelp. Otters eat the only known kelp predator: the sea urchin, so as they diminish the health of the kelp beds are compromised.. .

The call for me to travel to the sea feels old, ancient in fact. I am looking for food in a literal sense and I am deeply moved by the food I find for my soul. The nourishment that is gifted to me when sitting in these beds is rich. When I return to shore and dry the leaves , the nourishment continues. It continues throughout the year, as I ingest this salty crisp treat on a daily basis.

Bringing the nourishment of kelp into my body brings my cells to life. I can feel this throughout my being. Theoretically I know that I am receiving trace minerals, which are essential to health. They are necessary for oxygen transport, energy metabolism, growth, and cell and nerve protection. These nutrients are needed regularly by the body in small quantities, so I ingest kelp on a daily basis. I put a little in my soup, a little in my eggs. If I am having oatmeal then it becomes green. I toast it with almonds and make kelp bars for health.

When I leave the sea it always stays with me. It stays with me in my dreams as well as my pantry. I add it to all of my food instead of table salt as well as to my winter dreams. When I depart I am already dreaming of the next cycle when my next pilgrimage will begin. The seaside provides an opportunity for me to have abundance reflected as I gather what I need. The call from where the land meets the sea is loud and strong.

Linda’s Gamascio Recipe

This is an adaptation of a traditional Japanese condiment that can be added to salads, rice, soups or any other dish you feel inspired to sprinkle it on. It is particularly delicious when sprinkled on a fruit salad. When you add sea vegetables and/or other herbs to toasted sesame seeds, you increase their nutritional value.

  • Place sesame seeds on the bottom of a frying pan, covering the entire bottom (I like to use my cast iron pan

  • Begin toasting seeds

  • After two minutes add seaweed 1-2 ounces seaweed (Nori and/or Kelp work well-but experiment-any seaweed will work)

  • I also like to add herbs: a tsp or two of dried rosemary is a nice addition, a handful of dried nettle and/or a tsp of ground milk thistle seeds. use your creativity as any herb added will add flavor and increased nutrients.

  • Toast these together until the seeds begin to pop or brown lightly around the edge of the pan. Turn everything over with a spatula-toast until both sides are light brown and the sea vegetables are crunchy. If you have added rosemary your whole kitchen will fill with the sweetness of this aromatic herb.

  • Place in a jar and store for 1-2 weeks. Sprinkle lavishly on your favorite foods.

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