Herbs of the Seashore

The ocean’s wealth of flavor.

| June/July 1997


Probably the most overlooked herbs of all are the marine algae, also known as seaweeds. By expanding your definition of herbs to include these flavorful, nutritious plants, you can give yourself the perfect excuse to walk on the beach. Adventure is as near as the next low tide.

Though many of the peoples who settled America had used sea herbs ­extensively as a food source in their ­native lands, they somehow failed to transplant those traditions. Nevertheless, North American beaches offer a wealth of possibilities. If you aren’t ­familiar with sea plants, a great place to start is with bladderwrack, nori, and the carrageens.

Bladderwrack: a hardy delicacy

Though delicious, bladderwrack (Fucus spp.), also commonly referred to as fucus, labors under an unappetizing name. Rockweed, another common name for this herb, is hardly more appealing. Best think up a snappy alias before trying this one on the family!

Bladderwrack is a prolific, homely alga readily identified by yellow-green, mittenlike bladders on the ends of its fronds that endear it to children, who love to pop them. Incredibly tenacious, it thrives in the harsh upper tidal zone and is accessible at all but the highest points of the tidal cycle.

Accustomed to long, thirsty stretches between tides, this herb stays fresh for several weeks in the refrigerator, ready to lend a suggestion of shrimp to sauces and soups. Drying intensifies bladderwrack’s mock-crustacean tang. It may then be crumbled on salads and baked potatoes or pulverized for use as a seasoning. Dried bladderwrack becomes a natural snack chip when lightly toasted, great with a microbrew or hearty red wine. This is also the seaweed New Englanders spread in clambake pits before heaping on the shellfish, chickens, potatoes, and corn. Steamed slowly under a tarpaulin, the entire feast absorbs a bladderwrack savor.

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