Foraging for sea vegetables on the California coast
Foraging for sea veggies has become one of my favorite things to do. It’s really the perfect way to spend a Northern California summer morning! We are a small operation for the time being and I’ve never had to collect more than 20-30 pounds per trip, so these excursions end up being quite fun and leisurely.
In this entry, I’d like to take you all through a typical foraging trip, with lots of photos — including the sea veggies I collect and the marine life I encounter!
On the day of my forage trip**, I grab a backpack, scissors, some plastic bags, my wetsuit and an old fleece, and drive to the beach. I have a number of beaches that I use, with different foraging spots for different species.
I take in the view upon arriving:
Then I put on my wetsuit, grab my gear, and head down to the beach. There are flowers on the walk down:
Once on the beach, I head into the intertidal zone to collect some sea vegetables. But I’m not just looking for any sea veggies, I’m looking for specific kinds — like this thin translucent stuff:
This seaweed is called laver. It doesn’t look like much, but it might be the most widely consumed seaweed species in the world. This is what nori is made from — the stuff that wraps your sushi rolls, as well as the thin flat crispy seaweed sheets you snack on. Here is a stretch of rocks blanketed with laver — one of my favorite foraging spots!
And here’s my personal favorite sea veggie, the sea palm. This is a very distinctive-looking species that you can spot from afar. They really do look like tiny little palm trees!
Sea palm likes to grow on rocky outcroppings with lots of crashing waves, so you definitely want a nice low tide when you harvest these, otherwise the approach can be quite treacherous! But they are truly delicious and well worth the effort, I tend to eat quite a few of them as I’m foraging. (Just don’t collect these without a harvesting license — California does not allow sea palm collection without a license, because this species is particularly prone to over-harvesting! You can obtain the license from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.)
And here’s a selfie of me with some bullwhip kelp on my shoulder:
This species actually grows in deeper waters so it’s best to harvest it from a boat (more on this in a future blog entry!), but often you can find some bull kelp plants that have been ripped out and freshly tossed ashore by turbulent waters. These are great for pickling!
Sometimes I come across marine wildlife on my foraging adventures. On my last trip, I saw these seals hanging out on the rocks:
And the tide pools are always teeming with various sea creatures like these lovely anemones and purple sea urchins:
These critters are pretty cool too:
They are called gooseneck barnacles and they are a delicacy in Spain and Portugal — but it’s illegal to harvest them here in California, so don’t do it! They may seem plentiful, but it takes them many years to reach reproductive maturity, so they are very easy to overharvest.
After gathering all the sea veggies we need, I head to our kitchen facility. Sometimes I stop at a seafood joint on the drive back:
Once at our kitchen facility, I start processing the seaweed, or put it in the fridge to be processed the next day. This processing involves washing, drying, and sometimes cooking the sea veggies — more on that in a future blog entry!
**A quick note on how I decide when to go foraging. Most of our seaweed collection is done on foot during low tide. California has a mixed semi-diurnal tide pattern, which means there are two high tides of different heights and two low tides of different heights every day. I try to time my trips with the lower low water, but I also prefer to go in the morning because then I can start processing my haul in the afternoon — so sometimes I end up going during high low water, if that lines up better with the schedule.