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Survival kit of Skellig Michael Monks


Survival kit of Skellig Michael Monks

Aisling FitzGibbon

Seaweeds link me to my ancestry for I am a descendant of people who have either eaten seaweed and/or used it to fertilise their land.  Its minerals live in my blood that someday will be passed on through my DNA onto the next generation. Living on the west coast of Ireland, seaweeds are an integral part of our coastline that are ignored for the most part by people as they tumble onto the shore, darkening the sea with their pigmented hues of brown, green and red. Yet they are a treasure trove of protein, minerals and vitamins that are superior in their nutrients to land vegetables.  

The summers of my childhood were spent on the west coast of Ireland where I foraged for Dillisk with my grandfather Denis. Dillisk or dulse,a red algae is normally found on rocks near deeper water which meant we had to drive out Kerry Head to collect it. Afterwards it would be dried in the sun and later put into bags. My grandfather liked to eat his seagrass raw but I always preferred it in soups and stews where I could benefit from its vitamin and mineral content. I have stories about my great, great grandfather who dragged copious amounts of seaweed from the shore with the help of his donkey and cart. He spread on his farm outside Waterville as a fertiliser for his crops as he knew as did the people before him, that seaweed is a super rich in nutrients.  

I have to admit that I used to be afraid of seaweed whenever I went sea swimming, imagining camouflaged creatures like crabs and eels crawling out to take a bite or two out of me. This of course has never happened so now I swim regardless of the fronds of seaweeds that sometimes wrap around me. During the autumn seaweed releases its iodine content and is absorbed through our skin when we swim or bathe in it.

There are over 500 species of seaweed off the Irish coast line and while I don’t know each of them I know the names of the ones I eat (Dillisk), sea lettuce, carrageen moss and  the ones that I use for a seaweed bath (Fucus Serratus) that I later use as a fertiliser for my composter. Seaweeds are so rich in nutrients, containing twice as much vitamin C as an orange and 50 times as much iron as spinach. Popeye should have gone to the beach! Seaweeds are anti- inflammatory, anti -viral and anti –bacterial. They are great for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and eczema.

Seaweeds are heart friendly as they contain magnesium, a mineral we need for normal heart rhythm. Dillisk helps to combat high blood pressure. Kelp, a brown seaweed is one of the richest sources of iodine that helps with a healthy metabolism and brain function. Carrageen moss is used for bronchial problems and I can attest to its efficacy. I use it when I get a sore throat and chest infection and it does the trick.

There is written evidence that the monks on Skellig Michael harvested Dillisk to use in their cooking. Was this what kept them from feeling cold during the harsh winters in their beehive huts as seaweeds help to boost circulation?

I am lucky to live by the coast where I have easy access to seaweeds. However if you don’t fancy bringing seaweed home or if you’re not a coastal dweller you can buy dried seaweed kelp powder in a tub. It can be used as a face mask, for a seaweed bath or added to your hair conditioner to make your hair super soft. You can also buy variety of seaweeds in health stores such as Nori or Dillisk to put into soups and stews.

To your good health,