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More Seaweed Stories

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Upon Harris shores, stormy seas bringing seaweeds ashore.

In last week's Journal we praised some of the many virtues of seaweed as we began to explore our island and Isle of Harris Gin's connection to the sea.

From cattle fodder to crop fertiliser, the sea-ware gathered from our shores at low tide by local men and women has long been tangled up in our lives.

A portion of the entranceway in the old blackhouses was often devoted to storing seaweeds, and it was said that a crofter with an adequate supply would be able to grow two crops of oats in successive years in the same plot.

A dangerous harvest on the rugged rocks of the island's east coast.

A Gaelic prayer for an abundance of seaweed, taken from Carmina Gadelica compendium of prayers and hymns by Alexander Carmichael in 1928, reads…

Come and come is seaweed,
Come and come is red sea-ware
Come is yellow weed,
Come is tangle,
Come is food, which the wave enwraps…

Traditionally, islanders cooked with seaweed, and Scottish author Mary Beith writes that Dulse soup was a favourite, often eaten several times a week.

Beautiful tangles of the sea's bounty cling on.

The Reverend D. Landsborough, the author of "History of British Seaweeds" in 1849, stated that dulse "is a favourite ingredient in ragouts, to which it imparts a red colour, besides rendering them of a thicker and richer consistency."

Other recipes often use Carrageen in a blancmange-like pudding, and the leftover ashes from burning kelp to flavour cheese, particularly if salt were in short supply.

Seaweed had other uses, as he notes…

"…the habit of Island and Highlanders, before tobacco became so rife, of washing dulse in freshwater, drying it in the sun, rolling it up, and then chewing it as they now do tobacco."

Windblown seaweed, caught and dried on croft fencing wire.

In Martin Martin's 18th Century book of his travels through the Hebrides, he reports a Gaelic-speaking doctor providing medical information about the use of seaweed.

He suggests that Oarweed was valued as a cure for loss of appetite when boiled with butter and that kelp was shredded, chewed and swallowed for constipation.

Writer and seaweed forager Fiona Bird reports that goitres or swollen thyroids were once managed by wrapping seaweed around the neck. These seaweed scarves were apparently applied with good effect.

The Sugar Kelp seaweed which now defines our Isle of Harris gin.

Serrated wrack-seaweeds were considered suitable for rheumatism and applied hot to joints like bandages.

The filamentous seaweeds could be even be used in ropes, fishing lines and nets, and kelp stipes (stems) provided natural lye to make soap.

So, with all this history, it's perhaps only fitting that we industrious islanders have kept these wonderful species of marine algae so close to our hearts through Isle of Harris Gin.

After many centuries of sharing these shores with an abundance of kelps and wracks, the story of seaweed is still being written here in the Outer Hebrides, with many more chapters still to come…




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