Seaweed is a marine plant or ‘sea vegetable’ that lives mainly in our oceans, seas, and lagoons. It is essential to many marine creatures, acting as both food and habitat and it provides many benefits to humans. It exists in different forms and varieties and can be red, green, brown, or black in colour. It can be tiny in the form of Phytoplankton or large, in the form of Kelp. It has a holdfast that enables it to attach to rocks, it has a stipe (stem), a float to stay upright, and blades (leaves). You can see, touch, and hear more about seaweed and its uses on any of our coastal walks.
Exceptionally large seaweed is called Kelp. It proved to be an invaluable commodity in the past in Ireland. It also provided food during the Irish famine and was boiled to make soup due to its nutritious contents such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre. It was also used as a rich fertiliser for the land. In the early 20th Century, people learned how to extract iodine from kelp by burning it in kelp kilns. The extracted ash was added to animal fat and applied to wounds during World War I. Local harbours in Co. Sligo were busy exporting kelp during war years. At Mullaghmore Harbour, little kelp storage sheds were erected inside the inner harbour walls. You can do a guided coastal walk or customised tour for that area with us there to find out more about this place.
Most of the seaweed and kelp you see washed up on the Sligo beaches today is left to decay and dry out sometimes leaving a strong pungent smell. It is particularly plentiful after a storm when it is dislodged from surge and deposited from wave action and by the tide onto shores. If you choose our Heritage on Horseback Trail, you may see and hear more about heaps of freshly washed-up kelp and seaweeds on the beach which acts as a natural food for horses and cattle! Bladder wrack, Dulse, Carrageen Moss, Sea Lettuce and Sea Spaghetti can also be found mixed up with the kelp.
Carrageen Moss (little rock) is a red alga which is famous for its healing properties. It is also known as ‘Irish Moss’ which has antiviral properties. It can help open the airwaves if one has the flu or a cold and help congestion in the chest. Carrageen Moss is traditionally used as a dessert in Ireland as it has a natural gelling agent in it and is very nutritious. Dulse/Dillisk was sold locally and at markets and fairs throughout Ireland in the olden days and today, it can still be found in stalls, local markets and some delicatessens and can be used in cooking. Some local restaurants in Sligo serve seaweed on seafood platters. Fish mongers offer samphire with your fresh fish or you can buy dried seaweed in supermarkets or pharmacies around Sligo. For more info on maritime life, local markets, and recommendations for places to eat, why not do our Sligo Town Trail and your guide will tell you all about it.