Author Fiona Bird was on BBC Radio 4 Midweek today talking to Libby Purves about her latest book Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside, life on South Uist and seaweed, and it was a fascinating chat; you can catch up here. Fiona is hugely knowledgeable about seaweed and the many things you can use it for (she even dropped off some seaweed shortbread at the office!) so we thought we’d share some of the seaweed-y wisdom to be found in this amazing book, along with a super easy craft project. Over to Fiona…
Seaweed and its amazing uses
Macroalgae is a really useful weed. You can pop seaweed in the bath, cook with it, or use it in craftwork. Plan a visit to a herbarium, where you will be able to see beautifully preserved plants and seaweeds—our ocean flowers—and find out the best ways to preserve a seaweed’s shape and color.
Collecting, Drying, And Storing
If you are not planning to use your seaweed fresh from the seashore, then it can easily be dried and stored for using in recipes or other projects later on.
There are a few rules to bear in mind when collecting seaweed from the seashore for use at home:
Don’t pick storm-cast seaweed for cooking; only use seaweed that is growing.
Do use a pair of scissors to cut seaweeds from their holdfasts at low tide on a clean beach. (Remember to take scissors with you when you visit the beach.)
Don’t cook with floating seaweed or seaweed that grows at the top of the shore near drains. Sea lettuce and sea grass like growing here—instead, pick these seaweeds from rock pools at low tide.
Do wash the seaweed in the sea so that any hidden “visitors” can find a new home locally. You should also rinse the seaweed in cold water when you get home.
Do use a separate bag for each type collected, as this will make it easier to sort out your seaweeds when you get home.
Drying Seaweed When you get home, wash the seaweed thoroughly. Rinse it in cold water and squeeze out as much of the water as possible. A salad spinner is helpful here—spin the seaweed around, just as you would if preparing salad leaves.
Next dry the seaweed. Lay the pieces of seaweed on a tray lined with newspaper or some paper towel—making sure that they aren’t touching—and leave to dry on a sunny windowsill. You could also pop the tray in a warm airing cupboard. On a sunny day, you can dry larger seaweeds such as sugar kelp by pegging them on a washing line. You can also dry seaweed on trays in a low oven or even in a food dehydrator if you have one. Some people dry seaweed in a hot oven, but you must be eagle-eyed if you do this and make sure that the seaweed does not burn.
Storing Seaweed When you have dried the seaweed, cut it into manageable lengths or grind it in a food-blender. It is easier to grind a little at a time, pop it in an airtight container, and then repeat the process until you have used up all of the seaweed. Shake the containers when you remember and use the dried seaweed as a flavoring, just as you would herbs or spices.
No-sew Seaweed Bath Sacks
These easy-to-make bags make a lovely seaside vacation memory or gift. Younger children can practice knots as they tie the sacks. Soak the bath sack in your bath water for 5 minutes before you use it, unless, of course, you want to spend a long time in the bath. As the seaweed rehydrates, it releases a gel that has skin-softening properties.
WHAT TO USE
4 Dried seaweed, cut or broken by hand into short lengths
4 Jelly bag, pop sock, or a leg of pantyhose (tights), cut below the knee
4 Ribbon, for tying (optional)
WHAT TO DO
Stuff the dried seaweed into the jelly bag, pop sock, or section of pantyhose and then tie a knot (and a ribbon, if using) tightly at the top to make a sack. You can use colored or patterned pop socks or pantyhose if you wish to make your bath sacks look really pretty.
Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside by Fiona Bird is available here.