IRISH MOSS –Chondrous Crispus
Also known as: Sea Moss, Carrageen
Parts used: the whole plant
Systems/organs affected: stomach, lungs, gastrointestinal
Properties: yin tonic, alterative, demulcent, emollient, mild laxative, antiviral, antibacterial, nutritive, anti-tussive, anticoagulant
IRISH MOSS is a member of the Gigartinales family. It is a red algae that lives on intertidal or subtidal rocks. The fronds are fan shaped, cartilaginous and vary in color from green, red, yellow and dark purple or brownish. The branches are around half and inch broad and the fronds can get up to a foot long. It grows mostly along the Atlantic Coast although it can also be found along the Pacific. It grows off the coast of European countries as well as the United States. The most prized is that which grows near Ireland-hence the name. Irish moss is actually a nutritious seaweed with an amazing history.
Irish moss is perhaps most well known because of the potato famine in Ireland during the early 19th century. It was gathered by them and sustained them through the great famine and became a staple in the culture. It was also used as mattress stuffing, to cure leather, in paper marbling, soap making, as a thickening agent for inks used in printing, to help in the manufacture of paper and linens and to give a softer feel to material. Occasionally it was also used to brew beer. It was used in cattle feed and cosmetics as well as medicinals. Irish folklore tells us that it was often carried by those traveling as they believed it would offer protection and safety. It was also put under rugs to bring prosperity and wealth to the home.
The first mention of irish moss was in 1810 in regards to it being used for respiratory issues such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. It is also referred to as carrageen, which is an irish word meaning ‘little rock’, no doubt given to the fact that it grows atop rocks. It is harvested in the spring when the tides are furthest from shore. The harvesters would go out into the shallow water and rake the seaweed off the rocks. It was then laid out in the sun and dried for about two weeks time.
It should be mentioned that carrageen is something that has been added to a great many products over the years and come under heavy fire for being toxic. This is because the carrageen being used by companies is a synthetic copy of the original. Irish moss does NOT have the same toxic effects in its natural form. Chemically processed carrageen has little nutrition and is an isolated compound extracted using harsh alkalis that can degrade in the stomach. When that takes place the composition changes to a substance called poligeenan which is a potential carcinogen. This chemical is known to cause inflammation and other diseases and yet it has FDA backing as ‘safe for consumption’. GRRRR. Natural carrageen found in irish moss has been used for centuries with little to no ill effects.
Irish moss is used by many countries. In Jamaica, Tobago and Trinidad it is used as an aphrodisiac beverage made with milk and cinnamon believed to increase sperm count. The Scots and Venezuelans boil it with milk and honey for sore throats and chest congestion. It has been used for diarrhea, dysentery, scrofula, bronchitis, gastritis, rickets, tumors, goiter, kidney and bladder irritation, ulcers, joint complaints, enlarged mesenteric glands (folds of tissue that attach organs to the body wall-usually referring to the small bowel in the intestines), urinary system issues and as a nourishing food for invalids and those recovering from serious illnesses.
Irish moss is rich in nutrients. It contains 15 of the 18 elements that are necessary for human survival. Some of these are sulfur, iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, zinc, manganese and the vitamins A, C, B, K, D and E. WOWZA! It also contains beta-carotene, pectin and bromine. Perhaps its high nutritive content is what makes it so effective against things like radiation poisoning. It has been found to help prevent cholesterol buildup, help anemic conditions, improve cognitive functions, enhance one’s immune defenses, boost energy levels, increase recovery time from illnesses, surgeries and injuries, promote beautiful skin, helps with weight loss, increases the elimination of toxins from the system, found to be very useful against the mumps virus and influenza B strains. (Just to name a few..) It is an important edible that can be used as a thickening agent for soups, desserts, dressings, dips, jellies, ice creams and more. It is also used as an emulsifier and moisturizing agent in lotions, creams, toothpastes and a host of other cosmetics.
Irish moss comes in many forms-flakes, powders and as a whole plant. Each have a number of different applications. For instance, the flakes have a bit of a fishy flavor to them so aren’t typically used for food recipes even though they are higher in nutrition than the other forms. There are two companies that supply the flakes that are dried properly without excess heat so as to maintain nutritional value. (Main Coast Sea Vegetables and Mountain Rose Herbs). The whole seaweed is best used to make gels and can be used for cooking or cosmetics. It is mildly scented and more neutral in flavor. There are only a few companies that sell it in its naturally dried state instead of being heat treated. (Some of those are Traditional Nutritional Divine Organics and Natural Zing). The powdered form is also commonly used to thicken foods but use much less of it as it does absorb more moisture than other varieties. It should be a fine grey color (U.S. versions are often bleached so make sure it is from Ireland). It also has a strong fish flavor so don’t use it for sweets or beverages.
Some precautions to make note of-it has been known to irritate the eyes if you happen to get any in them. As it does have blood thinning ability it is best not taken by those on blood thinning medications. Those on thyroid medication should avoid it as well as it contains a high amount of iodine. (Interestingly enough, this plant is the only known source of the naturally occurring thyroid substances making it effective for thyroid conditions but if you are already on medication….perhaps best avoided). Pregnant and/or nursing women are encouraged to consult a physician before using as is anyone starting a new herb or dietary regimen.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links here for your perusal. Stay strong and healthy!