This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Half-a-dozen, or more, of the common Seaweeds produced about our English coasts are edible, and at the same time curative for various bodily ailments by reason of their potential marine properties; some of these Seaweeds are to be served by the cook for the table, whilst others benefit by external application. The former set includes Dulse, Laver, Samphire, and Sea Holly; and the latter class comprises Fucus vesiculosus (Bladderwrack), and Laminaria digitata (Sea-tang). It may be stated broadly that the Seaweeds which are of use as remedial simples owe their powers to the bromine, iodine, and sulphate of soda which they possess. Pliny, and Dioscorides in their days extolled the qualities of various Seaweeds; and modern doctors, particularly on our coasts, are unanimous in pronouncing Seaweed embrocations, and poultices, as of indisputable excellence for reducing glandular swellings, and in curing obstinate sprains; likewise they advocate the particular claims of Bladderwrack for internal use, as well as Eryngo, Irish Moss, and Samphire. Furthermore, sea-water itself, being rich in chlorides, and iodides, will serve both preventive, and curative medicinal purposes in a culinary form.
Dr. Sena, of Valencia, has given bread made with sea-water for cases of scrofulous disease, and for certain states of similar defective nutrition, with singular success.
Dulse (Tridea Edulis) is used in Scotland, and Ireland, both for food, and a medicine; as a marine weed it contains within its cellular structure much iodine, which makes it specially stimulating to the absorbent vessels for removing morbid deposits, and tumours. In Ireland the Dulse is first well washed in fresh water, and exposed to dry in the air, when it gives out a white, powdery substance which is sweet, and palatable, covering the whole plant. The weed is then packed in cases for preservation, to be eaten as it is, or boiled in milk, and mixed with flour, or rye. The powdery substance is "mannite." This Dulse is pinched with hot irons by the fishermen in the South-West of England so as to make it taste like an oyster; in Scotland it is roasted in the frying-pan. Dulse has bright-red, broadly wedge-shaped fronds which often bear frondlets on their margins: it is stored in casks to be eaten with fish. A fermented liquor is made from this seaweed in Kamschatka.
Laver is the popular name for certain edible Seaweeds, the Porphyra laciniata, and the Ulva latissima. They abound in marine salts, and are preventive of scurvy during a long sea voyage. The Porphyra, or Sloke, is slimy, or semi-gelatinous when served at table, being eaten with vinegar, or lemon-juice, and pepper; some persons prefer it cooked with leeks, or with onions. It varies in size, and colour, between tide-marks, being sometimes long, and ribbon-like, of a violet, or purple hue; at other times long, and broad, whilst changed to a reddish purple, or yellow. Laver, besides its beneficial use as food, can exercise remarkable healing powers; it may be applied, when boiled in its own juices, over a cut, or open sore, and tied on for three, or four hours, when a thin skin will form over the wound; and after repeating this application two or three times, the cut generally heals up entirely, and only a very small scar is left. The cooking of Laver for table consists usually in an addition of butter, and Seville orange juice, heating the mixture over a spirit lamp, whilst stirring until ready for being served. It is eaten with roast meat, and seldom liked at first, but becoming agreeable by habit.
Laver bread is a food made from green Laver. The Ulva latissima, a Seaweed of deep-green colour, called by fishermen Oyster-green (because used for covering over oysters), is less palatable, though an anti-scorbutic weed.
Samphire (Crithmum Maritimum, "Herbe De Saint Pierre"), which grows in clefts of rocks close to the sea, is highly esteemed as a pickle when made from the young leaves. The genuine Samphire is a small plant bearing yellow flowers, in circular umbels, on the tops of the stalks, which flowers are followed by seeds like those of fennel, but larger; the leaves are juicy, with a warm aromatic flavour, and are excellent against scurvy. Persons living by the coast cook Samphire as a pot herb; formerly it was cried regularly in the London streets by the name of Crest Marine. Evelyn has praised its virtues against spleen. A spurious Samphire (Inula crithmoides) is often supplied instead of the real plant, having a different taste, and but few of the true virtues; this grows more plentifully on low rocks, and on ground washed by salt water. Gerarde says about Samphire: "It is the pleasantest sauce, most familiar, and best agreeing with man's body." "Preferable," adds Evelyn, "for cleansing the passages, and sharpening appetite, to most of our hotter herbs, and salad ingredients".
"Green girdles, and crowns of the sea gods, Cool blossoms of water, and foam".
In the West of Ireland, by the sea coast, a dish seen very frequently on cottage tables is "Dillisk," another Seaweed, (Rhodymenia palmata) chopped up small, and added to a stew of limpets, and milk, which is thickened with potatoes, or oatmeal. In olden times this, and Laver, were considered to be great delicacies; and in many ancient Irish houses a small silver saucepan may still be found within which the Laver used to be cooked, and served straightway at table, before becoming cooled, and then tasteless.
Eryngo Roots (of the Sea Holly) were highly valued in Elizabethan days for renewing masculine vigour, such as Falstaff invoked. Being prepared with sugar, they were called "Kissing Comfits." Lord Bacon, when recommending the yolks of eggs as invigorating if taken with Malmsey, or sweet wine, teaches: "You shall doe well to put in some few slices of Eringium roots, and a little Ambergrice; for, by this means, besides the immediate facultie of nourishment, such drinke will strengthen the back." This plant grows in the sand on many parts of our coasts, with stiff, prickly leaves, and roots which run to a great length among the sand, being charged with a sweetish juice. A manufactory for making candied roots of the Sea Holly was established at Colchester by Robert Burton, an apothecary, in the seventeenth century, as they were esteemed anti-scorbutic, and good for improving the health. Gerarde tells: "The roots, if eaten, are good for those that be liver-sick, and do ease cramps, convulsions, and the falling sickness; if condited, or preserved with sugar, they are exceeding good to be given to old, and aged people that are consumed, and withered with age, and which want natural moisture." Boerhaave thought the root "a principal aperient." Dryden, in his translation of Juvenal's Satires, tells of certain revellers: -
"Who lewdly dancing at a midnight Ball, For hot Eryngoes, and fat oysters call".
Irish Moss, Or Carrageen, which is abundant on our rocky coasts, is a marine lichen which has come under notice here in a former section, together with Iceland Moss.
Of course the opposite plan should be adopted by lean subjects with a view to gaining fat. Such are the principles upon which animals also can be reduced in bulk, or fattened; but with respect to ourselves there are certain human beings who will -always be lean, and anxious-looking, because of their peculiarly irritable, nervous organization, such as makes cellular changes in their tissues prejudicially active. Tennyson, in his Vision of Sin, points a gruesome moral as to these matters:-
"Every face, however full, Padded round with flesh, and fat, Is but modell'd on a skull! "
Darwin has related, as illustrating how the quality of food can affect the nutrition of an animal, that the natives of the Amazon region feed the common green parrot with the fat of siluroid fishes, and the birds thus treated become of a plumage beautifully variegated with red, and yellow feathers.
The Sea-tang, known familiarly at the seaside as Tangle, Sea-girdles, or Cows' Tails, is of common marine growth, consisting of a wide, smooth, brown frond, with a thick, round stem, and broad, brown ribbons at the end of it.
"Health is in the freshness of its savour; and it cumbereth the beach with wealth, Comforting the tossings of pain with its violet-tinctured essence".
When bruised, and applied by way of a poultice to scrofulous swellings, and glandular tumours, the Sea-tang has been found of valuable service. Its absorbent stem-power for taking up iodine is very large, whereby this weed exercises remarkable virtues against the various forms of scrofulous disease, and signally relieves chronic rheumatism.
Again, Sea Spinach (Salsolacca spirolobea) is a salt-wort found growing on the Hampshire coast, and on other English shores, being the best of all wild vegetables for cooking as a dish, with succulent leaves shaped like worms, and possessing marked anti-scorbutic properties. Sea Kale, or Sea Colewort, was formerly thought to be injurious to the sight.
Another marine substance recently acquired for culinary uses is "Agar-agar," or Japanese Isinglass, as prepared from an East Indian Seaweed. Its gelatinizing power is double that of animal gelatine. To prepare this agar for use it is allowed to swell in cold water, and is then cut into small pieces, and dissolved in the liquid to be set, whether water, wine, broth, or milk. Seaweed is widely used for food in Japan; it being a remarkable fact that the Japanese army subsists mainly upon a combination of Seaweed with rice.
At Berek, a watering-place in the Somme Department of France, the sand of the sea-shore is found to be highly remedial in spinal diseases, and kindred affections, principally for children; they are buried up to their necks in a mound of the sand which has been washed by the waves at high tide. With characteristic national feeling a tri-coloured flag is planted on the top of the mound.