Chances are you haven’t heard of Lummi Island, a mostly residential island off the coast of Bellingham, Washington. On the northern half, humble homes face driftwood-strewn beaches along broad stretches of the Salish Sea overlooking faraway peaks and other islands. The more mountainous southern half is protected land, unkept for adventurous hikers and wildlife. There’s not much in the way of tourist attractions, but that makes it all the more appealing for visitors looking to escape city life. It also makes Lummi an outstanding place to launch a kayak.
The Salish Sea is a great place to forage for edible kelp and seaweed, several species of which can be collected right from the public shore or open water as you paddle. You'll find a range of tasty seaweed to nosh on, from nori to sea lettuce to bullwhip kelp. Tides flush the area with clean water, keeping the river pollutants out.
As you paddle, be on the lookout for wildlife. The clear water below houses crabs and fish, while the shoreline is home to birds like bald eagles. It’s also common to spot a curious harbor seal or otter.
Seaweed's Culinary Uses
The Pacific Northwest’s abundance of seaweed is a dream come true for the aspiring chef. The reddish-brown, bumpy plant called Turkish towel has thickening properties; use it to contribute a gelatinous texture to pudding, for example. Another seaweed, fucus, can be steeped in tea and is said to have appetite-suppressant effects. The massive tangles of tentacles known as bullwhip kelp can be sliced and pickled or used in salsa. You can find these recipes and scores more from seaweed harvesting expert Jennifer Hahn, whose book Pacific Feast is the creative authority on the topic.
Tips and Considerations
As with any foraging of wild plants, it’s important to keep certain rules and guidelines in mind. In Washington, you can only harvest from public or private beaches you have permission to access. It is illegal to harvest more than ten pounds of seaweed per day, but because seaweed has a short shelf life, you shouldn’t take more than you can use in a few days’ time anyway. You’ll also need a permit, which is available from the state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife website.
Take care to harvest across a wide area; don’t clear cut. Leave behind any sea creatures clinging to the seaweed, and don’t take the entire plant if it’s still growing in the water. You’ll see a small node at the bottom of the plant called the holdfast — it's root structure — which should be left behind so it can continue growing. Use a sharp knife to cut only a small section to take with you.
If you’re a beginner to either kayaking or foraging, Bellingham-based company Moondance offers half-day trips that will show you the ropes. Knowledgeable instructors offer plenty of guidance to get you started, as well as all necessary equipment and supplies.