Harvesting Seaweed from a Remote Maine Island
At Dulse & Rugosa we love seaweed. We have written tons of blog posts about seaweed and how great it is for beauty products as well as eating but what we haven’t talked about is how we get our seaweed. Carly, our licensed Maine seaweed harvester, harvest seaweed a little different then other companies, mostly because we use small amounts and the terrain of Gotts Island makes it hard to harvest any other way.
The first part of harvesting is going at the right time. We can only harvest seaweed at low tide which happens twice a day. Sometimes this means that Carly is harvesting super early in the morning, other times it means she has a lovely afternoon at the beach. Once the tide and time have been determined, Carly needs to decide what variety of seaweed she wants to collect. There are four places on Gotts Island that she harvests from. Gotts has no cars just dirt paths that zigzag through the forest. Some of our harvesting sites are located on the other side of the island so she can plan on a 20 minute walk to get to the beach. Her tools are a harvesting knife (an adapted sheet-rocking knife) a clam hod, and a five gallon bucket.
For the most part the seaweeds that Carly harvests are located just past the intertidal zone. This means that even though the tide is out she still wants to be in the water in order to reach the best seaweed. Often scrambling down over granite rocks, across more rocks covered in barnacles, over the rockweed (a type of seaweed that we use for fertilizer but not for products or eating) and finally, the ocean.
Nori (used in our facial scrub) is located right at this point but to harvest dulse, sugar kelp, and oarweed she needs to go a little further. Sugar kelp is found in the tide pools or places where the water is moving slower. This means wading to about her knees to gather this seaweed. In May the water temperature in Maine is in the hight 40’s. Brrrrr-cold work. Oarweed likes a little rougher water, and is harvested on the edges of big boulders. On days when it is windy and the waves are a bigger she can get soaked reaching for oarweed. Dulse likes protected areas such as rocky crevices or on the landward side of big rocks.
Once harvested we begin the process of drying the seaweed. Nori dries fast since it is so thin. Nori and dulse are spread on drying racks. We hope for still sunny days for fast solar drying. If it's cloudy or super windy, the seaweed blows away or absorbs more moisture, not good. When the weather is bad then the racks come inside.
Once the seaweed is as dry as it can get though solar drying the last step is to quickly pull the rest of the moisture out in the oven. this is done right before we process the seaweed. Only the nori and the dulse are further processed. We used to chop the seaweed by hand which took forever but we finally found a food processer that works on seaweed. This has saved hours of work!!! The sugar kelp and oarweed are left in big pieces for our shampoo bars and bath teas.
Even though our method of harvesting and processing seaweed takes longer and is harder than other companies we know that it is worth the effort. Carly loves going out and collecting seaweed. Splashing around in tide pools is probably her favorite thing to do- she is a true Maine island girl. Plus we know where every piece of seaweed comes from. Carly harvested each piece by hand, carried it back, and personally inspected each piece of seaweed to make sure that is the high quality that makes Dulse & Rugosa skincare products so nourishing for your skin.