Irish Moss Seaweed
Botanical Name: Chondrus crispus
Common Names: Irish Moss, Carrageen, Hebridean Moss, Pearl Moss, Irlandisches Moos (German)
Parts Used: Dried Thallus (young shoots)
Botany & Identification: Irish Moss is a member of the division Rhodophyta (the red seaweeds), and is commonly found on rocky shorelines below and just above the low tide mark. Found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it can be commonly found and harvested all year round. It is rarely found out of the water except at the spring low tides. It is extremely variable in appearance: branches are broad, flat, narrow, or twisted and brown, yellow, red or white. Its darker colour bleach to white/yellow in sunlight. It is identifiable by touch – wiry, bushy consistency unlike other species of seaweed. It rarely exceeds 15-20cm in height, and its branches/fronds are between 2-15mm. The best way to tell it apart from a similar species Mastocarpus stellatus is its lack of grooves, warts or bladders. (These two seaweeds can be used interchangeably as a food anyway.)
Growing & Harvesting: Caragheen is best harvested in spring & summer but can be collected year round. Use scissors and cut at least one third of the way up the holdfasts so the thallus (its shoots) of the seaweed can regrow. Once harvested, wash thoroughly and leave outside to dry, turning them over occassionally. It doesn’t matter if it is damp or rainy outside, they will still dry. Seaweeds are very effective at absorbing heavy metals & pollutants so it is extremely important to harvest in clean waters.
Edibility & Nutrition: Caragheen is edible, and very nutritious. It doesn’t really have a flavour, more a ‘texture’ of gloopiness. Irish Moss has a high mineral content, and is said to contain 15 of the 18 elements found in the body including iodine, bromine, iron calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.
Constituents: a trio of polysaccharides collectively called ‘carragheenan’, up to 80% mucilage, mineral salts & vitamins A and B
Qualities: Nourishing, Restoring, Cooling, Moistening
Tastes: Sweet, Salty, Bland
Medicinal Actions: Anti-Catarrhal, Anti-Coagulant, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Microbial, Anti-Tussive, Demulcent, Emollient, Expectorant, Hypotensive, Nutritive, Pectoral, Tonic, Vulnerary
- Irish Moss is soothing & cooling to all mucous membranes of the body. It is very effective in counterbalancing irritation, dryness or infection in the lungs, respiratory passages, bladder and urinary system, and the stomach and gastrointestinal tract
- It can be used to treat GIT conditions like diarrhoea, duodenal and peptic ulcers
- Its high polysaccharide content make it an effective prebiotic for healthy gut bacteria
- It is also very soothing to the surfaces of the body and can be used to treat conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dry and chapped skin, rashes, dermatitis, sunburn
- A decoction of the dried seaweed makes a good base for ointments, creams & gels
- Irish Moss is said to strongly increase Kapha through nourishing & increasing the blood, fluids and tissues of the body
- This is a remedy for the individual with chronic weakness leading to systemic dryness. e.g. haemorrhage, dehydration, childbirth, insufficient breast milk, TB or other chronic diseases
- A useful tonic for long term convalescnce and rest
- Caragheen has an anti-coagulant action, and can lower blood pressure & cholesterol if used over a long period of time
The iodine content of this seaweed have led to its use in treating goiter and other thyroid issues
History & Folklore:
- Irish Moss has long been used for its gelling properties and is one of the industrial sources of Carragheenan: a thickener and stabiliser in food products like ice cream, canned pet food, mousses, salad dressings and instant desserts. It is also known as E407, E407b.
- It was also traditionally used in the soap industry and to marble paper.
- This seaweed was consumed as a famine food during the Irish potato famine. Its use spread from Ireland to the USA via the Irish immigrants.
- Used for respiratory ailments recorded in Ireland as early as 1810
Preparations & Dosages:
Decoction: This is best decocted to bring out its mucilage, and there are numerous traditional recipes for Irish Moss decoctions with Iceland Moss, Comfrey Root, & honey to treat lung conditions, sore throats or wasting diseases. It can also be decocted with cocoa or just milk for a convalescent drink. Drink freely
Tincture: take 1-2ml three times a day
Cautions & Contraindications:
Generally very safe with a few cautions: seaweeds contain naturally high levels of iodine which may not be suitable for some.
Caution for those with shellfish/fish allergies as harvested seaweeds can’t be guaranteed not to contain parts of these. Caution in harvesting from polluted waters. Caution when taking anti-coagulant medicines.
Bunker, Francis et al (2010) Seaweeds of Britain & Ireland, Wild Nature Press
Complete Herbal http://www.complete-herbal.com/details/irishmoss.htm
Grieve, Maude http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mosiri53.html
Hoffman, David (1996) Complete Illustrated Guide to the Holistic Herbal, Element Books Publishing, Shaftesbury, Dorset
Holmes, Peter (2007) The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia Medica Integrating Western and Chinese Herbal Therapeutics, Vol. 1, 4th Edition, California: Snow Lotus Press
Medicinal Herb Info http://medicinalherbinfo.org/herbs/IrishMoss.html
Mountain Rose Herbs https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/irish-moss/profile
New Way Herbs http://store.newwayherbs.com/irish-moss–chondrus-crisp
Wright, John (2009) Edible Seashore, Bloomsbury Press, London