Kilkeel-based Michelle Wilson has launched an expert guidance on how best to reap the health benefits from foraging the Co Down shoreline for edible seaweed.
Michelle runs Crawford’s Rock which specialises in a range of seaweed products, many of which are now seen as healthy superfoods.
The entrepreneur organised Sea the Day yesterday which offered opportunities to forage the shoreline around the Kilkeel for such popular types
of seaweed as dulse, nori, carrageen, bladderwrack and serrated wrack.
Michele also provides guidance on cooking the seaweed with locally caught cod, hake, haddock, mussels, crab claws, Dublin Bay prawns and Crawford’s
Rock’s own award-winning seaweeds, salts and seasonings. Her small company has won UK Great Taste and Blas na hIreann Irish National Food awards for its natural foods.
The foraging guidance was part of the TourismNI/FoodNI imaginative initiative to highlight sustainable travel and food over the past month across Northern Ireland.
“The seaweed foraging has been designed to encourage participants to let the waves feel their feet and the sand be their seat,” Michelle explains. “It’s intended as a chance to wash away all those worries and for those brave enough enjoy a cold-water swim. They are able to warm up afterwards with an award-winning peppermint kombu tea and some delicious seaweed chilli chocolate as the sun drops and the day ends.”
The seaweed, particularly nori, a species of algae, is a key ingredient in acclaimed Japanese cuisine, is being developed by Michelle and her team at Crawford’s Rock. Her small batch food products include an extensive portfolio of seasonings, salts, oils and seaweed shots for smoothies and juicing. In addition, she produces a unique seaweed bath for luxury hotels in the area and a natural soap.
Michelle’s approach has been shaped by her focus on making it as easy as possible for people here to enjoy seaweed in a range of original salts and
seasonings. Seaweed, for instance, is a healthy replacement for conventional salt.
There’s also seaweed capsules which she refers to as ‘vitamin sea’ and a range of seaweed teas including peppermint, nori chai, lemon detox, and a
goodnight tea. She’s certainly demonstrating the versatility of local and natural seaweed.
Michelle established Crawford’s Rock seaweed company in 2018 from the experience and heritage of her husband’s family which has foraged this part
of the Down coastline for the seaweed that’s been commonly called laver or nori for generations. Nori is known in Down as ‘sloke’, a dark black seaweed that is often wrapped round sushi rolls for a tasty dish in Japan.
Seaweed has become extremely popular with chefs in coastal regions here.
It’s widely seen as being healthy due to experts promoting its contribution to heath in terms of vitamins A, C and D and protective pigments. It also offers decent amounts of iodine that’s a help for the thyroid gland. Some seaweed, furthermore, is packed with B12, a nutrient said to keep blood and nerves healthy.
A mother of four who grew up in the Kilkeel area and has always lived in the fishing hub, Michelle has built a very successful small business that’s involved in drying and processing the seaweed she harvests from the shore near the harbour that’s close to the family home she shares with husband Gareth and the family.
“I spend a couple of days every week checking the seaweed on the shore at low tide especially for sloke,” Michelle continues. “It’s also a great way to clear the head and enjoy invigorating sea breezes.”
Kelp and rock laver have been used over many generations in Mourne Mountains and other coastal communities as a natural cure and a remedy for
coughs and colds in autumn and winter. Seaweed was also once distributed to farmers in the Mournes for agricultural purposes. It’s also been used in
filtering craft beers.
Michelle, who has a degree in dementia studies, gave up a lengthy career in the NHS in 2018 to develop her long held passion for healthy and natural
food which is now widely accepted as having an influence on mood and mental health. Michelle, furthermore, has an interest in naturopathic medicine
which also influences her small business.
The company’s seaweed seasonings are now creating growing interest beyond Kilkeeel and were acclaimed at the influential UK Guild of Fine Food
Awards and at the Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards. Expert judges at Blas named the company’s garlic and rosemary seaweed seasoning
the ‘Best New Product’ 2020’.
Michelle says that the health benefits of eating seaweed are now “well-known and widely accepted”.
“Seaweed is full of minerals and vitamins and is now regarded justifiably as a superfood the world over. Seaweed is now recognised as an incredibly high-energy and low-calorie food,” she adds.