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In California it's peak seaweed season. Let's go foraging


Foraging has grown into a movement over the last few years, including in the ocean, where it's now peak seaweed season. NPR's Chad Campbell brings us this story from the California coast.

CHAD CAMPBELL, BYLINE: The weather on this recent weekend morning is typical, cool and misty. The sun struggles to burn off a persistent fog. The low temperatures draw visitors escaping the heat. And this morning's extreme low tide attracts people like Eugene Kim (ph). He drove up from San Francisco.

EUGENE KIM: We are at Schoolhouse Beach in Sonoma County. And we're here to go seaweed foraging.

CAMPBELL: Heidi Herrmann runs Strong Arm Farm. And she leads public tours like this one through Forage SF. She gathers her class of about 15 students on the beach and starts with an orientation.

HEIDI HERRMANN: There's actually 640 different species here on the California coast. They're all edible, too. And that's kind of the big fun lesson of today is just, let's kind of taste as we go along. Yeah. Delicious. Yeah, it's got a crunch.

CAMPBELL: But not everything out here is for eating. My wife's main goal is to find something known as Turkish towel. I'm told that its rough leaves make a great exfoliant.

I think I found something.

KIM: Oh.

ELISSA: What? What is it?

KIM: That is the mother lode right there.

ELISSA: Is that the towel?

KIM: That is the good stuff. Nice.

CAMPBELL: That's right. A huge single leaf of chondracanthus exasperates - you know, Turkish towel. With that box checked, we break off from the group. Elissa (ph) and I follow Eugene's lead. He tells us that most of what he knows about seaweed he learned from taking Heidi's class last year.

KIM: We're about to venture into the intertidal zone, the part of the beach which is covered with water at high tide. That's where all the good stuff is. So we're going to grab the Ziploc bag. And we're going to grab a pair of scissors. And we'll start heading out into the tide.

CAMPBELL: We've probably all seen seaweed washed up on a sandy beach. But we need to get to it while it's still alive, anchored to the rocks - healthy, vibrant and full of nutrients.

KIM: So this is called bladderwrack. You'll find this in health food stores. It's a really good source of iron and iodine as well.

ELISSA: I like it. It's salty. It's just a little hint of sea salt.

KIM: You could put them in salads - right? - give it a little flavor, a little punch.

CAMPBELL: And it's important to do this sustainably. We only harvest a few leaves of each individual plant. At this time of year, it still has time to regenerate what we cut off.

KIM: So this is all nori, you know, the sushi wrappers. This is exactly what you would find any of your kind of sushi places or any Korean restaurant. Can't get any fresher than pulling it out of the water.

CAMPBELL: What is that?

KIM: (Laughter) I have no idea what that is. Let's taste some.

CAMPBELL: Remember, all 640 species we might find out here are edible.

KIM: This is bitter. It's kind of hairy and long and thin. It does not look appetizing. And I would say it doesn't taste appetizing either.

CAMPBELL: Well, they can't all be winners. But trying new things and sharing what you learned has led to some pretty wonderful innovations.

KIM: Everyone thinks, like, kimchi is spicy. And it's got the chili peppers and stuff, which it does. But chili peppers come from the Americas. And so prior to the 1400s, Korean kimchi did not have chili peppers in it. So I think it's, like, incredible how global the world was even 500 years ago and how all these things that we think about are, like, traditional Asian culture, for example, they actually come from right here.

CAMPBELL: We pack our bags of seaweed and head home feeling just a little bit closer to nature and to the rest of the world.

Chad Campbell, NPR News, Schoolhouse Beach, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chad Campbell