Family: Rhodophyta, Seaweed and red algae.
Synonyms and Common names: carrageen moss, pearl moss, or carrahan'
Description and Habitat:
Irish Moss is not a Moss at all, it is an edible North Atlantic seaweed that yields a mucilaginous substance. It is found on the Atlantic coasts of Ireland, Europe, and the United States, it’s also found in the Scottish Islands and the rocky coasts of the North West of Scotland. Irish Moss is a seaweed and is a red alga. It is found on the Atlantic coasts of Ireland, Europe, and the United States.
Irish moss is purple to green when fresh, but dries to yellow-brown. It has translucent forked fronds or thalli, which are usually 5-25cm long.
Parts used: the frond or thyllus.
Collection and preparation: Irish Moss may be collected from the rocky coasts of north-west Europe at low tide all year round. It is especially abundant on the North Western’s rocky shores of Ireland.
- After gathering, and its best gathered straight from the sea, discarding any brown pieces, healthy fresh pieces are deep red in colour.
- Rinse it well and soak for 24 hours in cold water.
- The day after throw away the water and re-soak for another 24 hours in clean, cold water.
- Again throw away the water, adding cold water to cover the seaweed, bring it to the boil for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Allow the mixture to cool, it will turn to a loose gel consistency. When cold blend using a household blender.
- Another way of preparation is to soak twice as above, and instead of boiling the fronds, let it dry and powder the seaweed.
The resultant gel can be put into jars and kept in the fridge. It should last 2-3 weeks.
If the seaweed cannot be harvested, it is possible to buy it online, usually in powdered form, but it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to buy from a tested seller, there are many seller’s whose product is inferior to the genuine item. If it’s cheaper than it should be, then it’s usually not what it appears to be, Buyer Beware!
Constituents: up to 80% mucilage, polysaccharide complexes (carrageenans - up to 80%), protein, iodine, bromine, iron, sulfur, other mineral salts, vitamins A and B.
Actions: expectorant, demulcent, anti-catarrhal, pectoral, vulnerary, nutritive, antitussive, emollient
Indications and Therapeutics:
The mucilage present in Irish Moss is Carragheen, which is used in large quantities by the food industry to make jellies, and aspic, and to be used as a smooth binder. It is this very property that is the basis of its use in digestive conditions where a demulcent is called for, such as gastritis, and ulcers.
However, its main use in healing is in respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, and tuberculosis. It finds use also in cosmetics as a skin softener.
Irish Moss is exceptionally rich in nutrients and antioxidants, it is is quickly gaining a reputation as the next big superfood, in line behind kale, blueberries, and fish rich in omega 3.
Contraindications: Polluted coastal areas should be avoided when gathering Irish Moss, because of the risk of heavy metal contamination.
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: Pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb, leave for 10 minutes, this is drunk 3 times daily.
Tincture: Take 1-2 ml. of the tincture 3 times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore:
Irish Moss got its name when it was made famous during the potato famine in Ireland in the 1800s. Because people were starving and desperate for food, they began eating the red algae that they found on the rocks. As a result, the name stuck. This alga is also referred to as carrageen moss because of its high carrageen content. Carrageen is a common food additive used to maintain stability within processed foods and as a thickening agent.
Seaweed has formed a part of the diet of Irish and Scottish coastal dwellers for at least 4,000 years. The earliest recorded account of its use is in a poem dated around AD563 and attributed to St Columba, a native of Donegal, after his move to Iona in the west of Scotland.
For many generations, seaweeds have played a much larger part in the production of foodstuff, by being used as fertilisers. Seaweed’s ability to concentrate minerals and trace elements from the sea renders them a potent source of nutrients for vegetable cultivation.
Traditionally storm-caste seaweeds were collected from the shore, especially in the western coastal areas of Scotland and Ireland, briefly composted and dug into the soil as a fertiliser and soil conditioner providing high levels of nitrogen and potassium, particularly useful in the shallow, often low potassium, soils of these west coast areas. Crofters still use this method to the present day.
Later, with increasing coastal population, lazy bed cultivation became commonplace. Wide trenches were dug and the seaweed thrown up by winter storms was laid on the earth piles for several weeks. Eventually, the piles of earth were turned back into the trenches and root crops, especially potatoes, planted. No further fertilization was undertaken, the seaweed providing all necessary nutrients.
Villages by the sea have always been tied to what the sea gave to them. Seaweed was recognised as being a health-giving tonic for those in need. A Tradition of seaweed soup always bubbling away over the fire for those who had been out fishing or hunting, was a welcome hot food to come home to. Tied to shipwrecks and those who were rescued as a life preserver, seaweed became a magical food for the land and for its people. A real gift from the sea.