Carrageen – Irish Seaweed

I count myself very lucky to have had the childhood summers I had, free to roam about the wilds of the Burren in Co. Clare on Irelands Wild Atlantic Way. To me it is home, and Fanore, where our mobile home was, is the most beautiful place in the world. Even now when I come around Black Head or see the glorious limestone stretch out before me, my whole body shifts into a calm and happy place. Only good memories are in this place and quite a few revolve around food.

Map showing where Fanore beach is in Co. Clare

My mother Kitty, was fantastic at telling us the names of all the creatures in the rock pools along Fanore beach. Not only to keep us entertained. But I now realize she was educating us on the wonder of shellfish and the bounty of the sea if we were hungry. To this day I love a good rock pool. Periwinkles were a particular family favorite. We would collect buckets of them to eat. However, before that feast, mammy would set up periwinkle races on the kitchen table. There would be squeals and shouting as the 6 of us would crowd around the caravan table in great support of our little periwinkles. I never ate them and my poor periwinkles never won either despite lines of salt laid out like cocaine in a 70’s nightclub in its path. But something we would also collect on these walks amongst the rocks with their Atlantic waves rolling as the tide would go out leaving urchins, mussels, crabs, and limpets was Irish moss seaweed, in particular, Carrageen (Chondrus crispus).

My mother would explain to us that Carrageen (Irish sea moss) was a well-known cure for colds and flu, actually anything that ailed you. But things that involved the chest seemed to be her go-to. In fact, it was so powerful farmers gave it to sickly cattle or pigs to regain perfect health according to my mother. If it was good enough to heal a cow, well it was good enough for a sick child. I think that was the logic behind the stories. Either way, to me this was a magic ingredient straight from the sea.

The 6 of us, along with my parents would set off across the rocks foraging and discovering new life in those rock pools while searching for this mystical and magical ingredient given up by the mermaids (that’s what I thought anyway). We would fill bags and bags with Carargeen, pulling or cutting from the rocks while the tide was out. Even though we were just kids we knew exactly what to do without fear of the sea or those imposing limestone rocks. We knew nothing else, embracing the wildness of that place, foraging barefoot over that cool limestone rock as the salty air blew a gale around you as only it can on the Atlantic coast. We kept going until the bags were full. On a fine day, the bags would be lined up along the shore so we could jump into the waves before heading back. Although more often we would stroll over the huge sand dunes, damp from sea spray and mist but thrilled by the adventure. I suppose we didn’t mind as we knew what would be made from this moss. My mum’s Carrageen mouse, which we all loved. Sure we’d have walked through a hurricane for that. Once back at the mobile home, it was washed in basins or buckets outside to remove the grit and excess sand. A large sheet would be laid out either on the grass or over the beautiful stone walls that ran along the back. All the Carrageen would be strewn out there to dry. The potent smell of sea wafting around the place. Ya would have to keep an eye out though in case the farmer brought his cattle past your place as they would make for the carrageen. Or maybe a donkey would be put in the field behind our place and have a nibble on the moss when ya were out of sight. Once my mum was happy it was dried, she would put it into bags for taking back home. In the picture below you can see what it looks like when dried. It still has that smell of the sea on wet hair and is quite hard, breaking up easily if you scrunch it in your hand.

Carrageen, Irish Moss Seaweed, Wild Atlantic Way, Co. Clare

Although my mother taught us about the great power of carrageen, and gave it to us regularly as children, particularly during the winter. I doubt she was fully aware of the brilliant level of nutrition she was giving us. She did not know about the intricacies of omega oils, high levels of particular vitamins and minerals in seaweed. She may not have been aware of the specific benefits to gut health, thyroid, heart function or blood sugar levels, which scientists are delving into now. She knew it was good for you, was brought up in Clare and saw its magic and how it was used before antibiotics were given for the slightest sniffle.

I’m sure like myself she would roar laughing then shake her head in horror at having to buy this in a health shop over collecting bags and bags of it at will. But she taught us well. For when my son was born at 27 weeks with various complications namely his lungs. I was told over and over again that he would have asthma, and for a long while, he did suffer from endless colds and chest infections, even pneumonia. Until I remembered Carrageen and all that my mother had told me. I started giving him her Carrageen mouse when he was a little fella, small amounts initially. As it is high in iodine, too much could cause him constipation, so small amounts were best. Slowly his immune system really began to build up. Over the years it has been a go-to, during flu season. There are many types of seaweed, as well as many benefits and uses for it. From bathing to superfood powders you have so much choice now.

Once I moved to Malta I could no longer get my hands on carrageen from Clare so easily. But thankfully we don’t have those flu seasons in Malta like they do at home. However, I was delighted when my sister gave me a packet to bring back recently. It’s from a great Irish company called Wild Irish Seaweed, based in Co. Clare. With Covid running rampant, along with schools getting ready to reopen it couldn’t have come at a better time. You can check out Wild Irish Seaweed by clicking on the link. I’ve no affiliation with the company but have used their products and they are fantastic.

Wild Irish Seaweed, Carrageen

The idea of having to buy something we foraged as children can be a bit of a head-shaking situation. However, I fully understand and appreciate the need to preserve this natural resource by sustainably harvesting seaweed. The health benefits are certainly worth it. I’m just lucky that the Fanore mermaids gave us this magic moss as kids and my mother Kitty knew what to do with it. We were a healthy bunch which I’m sure was in part because of Carrageen and all its goodness. Keep an eye out this week as I will be posting my mother’s Carrageen mouse.

Disclaimer: If you are going to use seaweed and seaweed products, always do your research and be fully aware of any contra-indications for taking seaweed that might be relevant to you. This article is about my memories and personal experience only.

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