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Kelp

Latin Names: Fucus vesiculosus (Bladderwrack); Laminaria spp. (Kombu)

Other Names: Alga Marina (Spanish); Kun Pu / Hai Dai (Chinese); Kombu (Japanese); Seaweed / Sea Vegetables (English)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom; various genera, including Fucus, Laminariae, Pyropiae, etc…

Part Used: Leaves, whole plant.

Basic Qualities: Moderately Cooling and Moistening

Other Qualities: Softening, dissolving, emollient, nutritive, penetrating, restorative.

Taste: Predominantly Salty; also Savory, Rich, Unctuous

Humoral Dynamics: Kelp and other sea vegetables are moderately cooling and moistening, acting as powerful nutritive tonics to nourish and replenish body fluids, minerals and electrolytes, as well as to nourish and fortify the Radical Moisture.  They are also softening, dissolving, and emollient, having the property of softening and dissolving goiters and hardened masses, especially in the thyroid area, as well as having plenty of mucilage and soft, soluble fiber to benefit intestinal regularity.  Through its great abundance of all vital minerals and electrolytes, including iodine and other trace minerals, Kelp and other sea vegetables help to restore and maintain a healthy balance of all the humors and vital fluids of the body.

Tropism: The thyroid gland; the minerals, electrolytes and serous fluids of the body; the brain and nervous system; the liver and kidneys; the bones and joints; the intestines and the bile. 

Constituents and Pharmacology: Minerals – iodine, but also calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, boron, and many other trace minerals.  Protein – mainly in the form of soothing mucilage and Algin.  Polysaccharides – mainly sulfated complex polysaccharides called Fucoidans.  Soft, soluble fiber and bulk.  Vitamins – A (beta-carotene), C, E, B2, B12, pantothenic acid, etc…  A wide variety of natural antioxidants.

Medicinal Properties: Nutritive tonic, mineralizant, tonic, restorative, demulcent, emollient, aperient laxative, detoxifier, chelating agent.

Cautions and Contraindications: Because Kelp and other sea vegetables are moderately cooling and moistening, they should be used with caution or in small doses only by those with a slow, sluggish or atonic stomach and digestion.  One way to remedy this, and to still enjoy the rich, savory flavor of sea vegetables in one’s diet, even with a sluggish digestion, is to take a hint from Oriental cuisine and cook sea vegetables with fresh Ginger and Garlic – yummy!  Otherwise, there is a strong case to be made that Kelp and other sea vegetables, with their great abundance of organic minerals of all kinds, should be a vital part of everyone’s diet, in doses that are appropriate to the individual concerned.

Medicinal Uses: Although the main uses of Kelp and other sea vegetables are nutritional and dietary, there are some bona fide medicinal uses of Kelp.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kun Pu, which is their main variety of Kelp, is used to treat goiters and also to soften and dissolve hardened nodules and growths, especially in the throat and thyroid area, often in combination with other herbs, like Fritillary rhizome and oyster shell.  Kelp is also a valuable chelating agent for heavy metals, radioactive substances and other environmental toxins.  Kelp also helps in detoxification regimes by providing organic iodine to support and boost the functioning of the thyroid gland.  Kelp is also great to treat weakness and exhaustion caused by mineral and electrolyte depletion in hot summer weather, and broths made from Kelp and other sea vegetables can also be used for this purpose, as well as to replenish minerals and electrolytes in infantile diarrhea and consequent dehydration.  Kelp, with its abundance of many vital minerals and electrolytes, is great for restoring and supporting the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, especially when these have become depleted due to chronic stress, mental exhaustion or overwork.  For those with chronic constipation, especially in the elderly, as well as those who have suffered from laxative abuse, the addition of Kelp to one’s diet can restore intestinal regularity as a mild aperient laxative, due to its abundance of moistening mucilage and soft, soluble fiber.  The soft, soluble fiber of Kelp also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels.  Because Kelp or marine algae, as well as other forms of algae, like Spirulina, are a rare vegetarian source of vitamin B-12, and the abundant mucilage in Kelp is also a form of protein, Kelp or other sea vegetables should be in the diets of all vegetarians.  For topical use, gels made from Kelp and other sea vegetables are valuable skin moisturizers for cosmetic beauty treatments.

Other Uses: The main non-medicinal uses of Kelp and other sea vegetables are mainly culinary, especially in Asian cuisine, where they have become a staple food.  For example, Kombu seaweed is often used to make a savory broth in Japanese cuisine, which is then used as a soup stock.  Dulse flakes are often used as a seasoning to replace table salt, especially for those with sodium restricted diets.  Other kinds of sea vegetables, such as Agar agar, which yields a particularly firm and nutritious mucilage, is used as a culture medium in Petri dishes in medical laboratories.  Sapropelic clays and muds, which contain decayed seaweeds as one of their constituents, are used in health and beauty treatments given at various balneotherapy resorts.  In agriculture, Kelp can also be used as a crop fertilizer, as well as to make the milk of dairy cows richer.

Preparation and Dosage: Kelp is most commonly available in small tablets at health food stores; a good dose would be around ten tablets daily, perhaps five for those with a slow or sluggish stomach and digestion.  For decoction instructions, see below.  Other ways of taking kelp and other sea vegetables are primarily culinary – see Asian cookbooks for tantalizing recipes.  Since Kelp and other sea vegetables have very low toxicity, dosage is not that important, and they can be consumed freely.  The only exception to this general rule would be those with slow or sluggish stomachs and digestions; for those, consuming sea vegetables in small or moderate doses in one’s food, or combining them with pungent herbs like fresh Ginger and Garlic to support and protect the stomach and digestion is the way to go.

Herbal Formulation: Dried Kelp or Bladderwrack can either be decocted by itself into a savory broth, or it can be added to other decoction formulas, usually in equal parts, in order to add some restorative mineral and electrolyte content to the brew.  The only caution that I would observe is that of counterbalancing the Kelp with a pungent herb like Ginger to stimulate and protect the stomach and digestion for those whose digestions are slow and sluggish; otherwise, no special precaution is needed, and Kelp may be used freely.

Classic Combinations: In Chinese herbal medicine, Kelp, or Kun Pu, is most commonly combined with Zhi Bei Mu, or Fritillaria thunbergi, as well as Oyster Shell for the treatment of goiter and other hard nodules, usually in the throat or thyroid gland.  Xuan Shen, or Scrophularia root, is sometimes also added to the mixture because of its detoxifying action on the throat and its glands.  Kelp and other sea vegetables can be combined with fresh Ginger and Garlic for flavor, as well as to stimulate and support the stomach and digestion, especially for those with a weak, slow or sluggish stomach and digestion.

Description: The Greeks have always been a seafaring people, and have made their living from the sea since time immemorial.  And as such a people, they have always recognized the healing, life-giving benefits of the sea, and living in a marine environment.  All it takes for one to experience the healing benefits of the sea is to take in a whiff of the fresh salty air to feel rejuvenated and revitalized.  And so, there is a whole field of therapy in Greek Medicine called Thalassotherapy, which is the use of the sea and other sea / marine products like Kelp to facilitate healing.  Science tells us that rainfall on the land slowly dissolves minerals from it, which then enter the rivers and are washed to the sea.  And floating in this mineral rich sea broth is Kelp and other seaweeds, or sea vegetables, which then turn these inorganic mineral salts into organic form, making them easily assimilable by the human organism.  Science also tells us that the vital fluids bathing our cells, organs and tissues are very similar in their composition to sea water, which contains all the vital minerals needed by the human body, in precisely the right balance.  And Kelp and other sea vegetables convert these inorganic minerals into organic form, in precisely the same balanced proportions, as their cells have the property of storing and concentrating minerals and their salts from the sea. 

In fact, the sea harbors an extremely wide variety of Kelps and other sea vegetables – just witness the incredible variety of seaweeds used in Japanese cuisine alone, which include Kombu, Wakame, Arame, Hijiki, and Nori, to name a few.  In Western herbal medicine, the main or default variety of sea vegetable is called Kelp, or more precisely Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), since the plant’s hollow bladders, or vesicles, which are filled with air, help to buoy the leaves up towards the surface, where they can get more light for photosynthesis.  The closest sea vegetable to Kelp in Chinese herbal medicine is Kun Pu, which is also called Hai Dai, which literally means, “sea belt”, since its thick, broad leaves resemble a thick belt or sash; this is the same sea vegetable that Japanese housewives know as Kombu, which is usually boiled or decocted to make a delicious, savory broth that is then used as a soup stock.  Or, it can simply be drunk as a tea or decoction, which the Japanese call Kombucha, which is not to be confused with the very popular vinegary drink sold in health food stores.  I remember being told as a youth in Japan that if I drank enough Kombucha, or Kombu tea, that my hair would never turn grey.  But look at me now – in my mid sixties, with a full head of grey hair – it seems like I didn’t drink enough Kombu tea! 

The sea is cold and wet in its basic qualities; therefore, it’s not surprising that Kelp, as well as most other seaweeds, are moderately cooling and moistening in their basic qualities.  And, having basic qualities that are essentially in sympathy with, or congruent to, those of the Phlegmatic humor and the serous fluids of the body, would nourish and support the serous fluids, or the vital fluids, minerals and electrolytes of the organism.  A healthy balance and metabolism of all the vital fluids of the body, modern nutritional science tells us, is dependent on maintaining a healthy balance of mineral salts and electrolytes – and since Kelp and other seaweeds are always bathing in sea water, and absorbing vital nutrients from it, it’s not surprising that sea vegetables contain all the minerals and electrolytes that the body needs, in easily assimilable organic form, and in precisely the right balance and proportion needed by the body.  Although Kelp and other sea vegetables are cold and wet in nature, and are of the same basic qualities as the Phlegmatic humor, they are not considered phlegm forming; to the contrary, they are softening and dissolving in their action, which gives them not only the ability to soften and dissolve hardened nodules, tumors and growths in the body, including goiters, but also gives them a beneficial dissolving and attenuating effect on thickened, hardened phlegm as well, which aids in its expulsion.  However, the cooling and moistening qualities of Kelp and other seaweeds give them their basic caution or contraindication – that they should not be consumed in excess by those with a slow, sluggish or atonic stomach and digestion. 

The modern diet and lifestyle is notorious for leeching vital minerals out of the body, especially alkaline minerals like calcium, since all the meat, as well as refined sugars and starches consumed generate a strongly acidic residue in the body.  Of course, the extreme imbalance of the modern diet in this regard requires first and foremost that one reduce one’s consumption of meat and refined sugars and starches, and to eat a plant based diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, which are alkalizing to the system.  But in addition to this, consuming Kelp and other sea vegetables on a daily basis helps to replenish the body with vital minerals and electrolytes.  Much has been made, and much attention has been paid, to Kelp’s high iodine content in giving nutritional support to the thyroid gland, and while I am not denying or denigrating the iodine content of Kelp, I also want to point out that it also contains a superabundance of other macrominerals, especially Calcium, which the body requires in the greatest amounts.  Kelp and other sea vegetables are so rich in Calcium that they are one of the primary sources of organic Calcium used in food-based Calcium supplements.  And all the other Cell Salts that the body needs can also be found in sea vegetables, in precisely the right balance and proportion that the body needs them, all in easily assimilable organic form. 

Too many people live in a deprived, impoverished state when it comes to the vital minerals and electrolytes that the body needs.  Why live in poverty?  Why not become a mineral millionaire?  For a very modest investment, you too can become a mineral millionaire – by eating Kelp and other sea vegetables!  I remember visiting a health food expo and witnessing the demonstration of a mineral or electrolyte supplement – water from Utah’s Great Salt Lake, if I remember correctly – or it could just as easily have been water from the Dead Sea in the Holy Land.  Anyway, with an electrical battery on one side of the circuit and an electric light bulb at the other end, and two glasses – one filled with ordinary tap water and the other filled with their salt water mineral supplement in the middle, the light bulb went dead when the electrodes were placed in the tap water, but lit up brightly when they were placed in the salt water mineral supplement – and I’m sure that a glass of Japanese Kombu tea would have worked just as well.  The vital minerals and electrolytes provided by Kelp and other sea vegetables support healthy muscle function, but more importantly, they support the healthy, optimum functioning of the brain and nervous system as well.  So why not spark your life and your mind up by munching on some healthy seaweed right here and now?  It really perks you up in a jiffy!  Kelp and other sea vegetables also really come in handy in places where there are really hot summers, to replenish fluids and electrolytes that were lost due to sweating – and believe me, munching on dried Dulse leaves was just what the doctor ordered to cope with the sweltering summer heat that I had to endure while living in Tucson, Arizona.

Kelp helps to detoxify the body from radioactivity and heavy metals, and the iodine and other trace elements, as well as the Sodium Alginate it contains, seem to be the constituents that are most responsible for this.  Nutritionally, Kelp is a rich source of iodine, calcium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and B-12, as well as soft, soluble fiber in the form of protein rich mucilage, including Algin.  Most varieties of seaweed are rich in soft, soluble fiber, and, due to their soothing emollient properties and their fiber content, are great for those with chronic constipation.  Add a little seaweed to your diet, and you’ll be pooping like a champ!  Kelp is a very rich source of iodine, and in its high iodine content lies most of its controversy with nutritionists.  Eating too much Kelp or sea vegetables, they maintain, can give the body a toxic overdose of iodine, which could lead either to a hyperthyroid or hypothyroid condition, depending on the individual, they say.  But the good news is that tasty sea vegetables don’t need to be added to the diet in large doses – a tablespoon or so of dried seaweed a day is just fine.  And besides, eating large amounts of sea vegetables, with their cooling, moistening properties, as I said earlier, can sit heavy on the stomach for those with a constitutionally slow or sluggish digestion.  Since I spent many of my formative years in Japan, a country that thrives on sea vegetables, I don’t happen to have a lot of the iodine suspicion that many Western nutritionists seem to have, and believe that the excess is simply excreted from the body. 

Another key constituent of sea vegetables that is getting attention from scientific researchers these days is their high content of Fucoidans, which is a sulfated, complex polysaccharide.  They have been cited for their anti-inflammatory activity, which works in conjunction with the numerous antioxidants and antioxidant vitamins (chiefly A, C and E) that sea vegetables contain.  These sulfated polysaccharides also have antiviral properties (More research is needed on this point), as well as cardiovascular, blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties.  These Fucoidans also seem to have anti-cancer properties as well, especially in protecting against colon cancer and various estrogen dependent cancers in women, as the daily or regular consumption of sea vegetables over the long term has a moderating or stabilizing effect on a woman’s estrogen levels throughout her menstrual cycle.  And other vital constituents of sea vegetables seem to work in synergistic concert with the Fucoidans to achieve these diverse therapeutic effects. 

In conclusion, I would like to say that so many good things come from the sea, and Kelp and other sea vegetables are some of the best among them.  Since sea vegetables have the property of absorbing and concentrating minerals from the surrounding sea water into their cells, which is one of the sources of their many nutritional virtues, it stands to reason that they would also absorb toxic minerals and other noxious substances from the sea water as well.  That’s why you should always inquire about the sourcing of the sea vegetables you consume, to make sure that they are grown in healthy, pristine sea waters.

Related Species: Related Species:In this article, I have repeatedly talked about Kelp andother sea vegetables, which are related species that share many of the samemedicinal and nutritional properties and virtues as Kelp. Many of these related species are differenttasty varieties of sea vegetables used in traditional Japanese cuisine; theseinclude Kombu, Wakame, Arame, Hijiki, and Nori. Besides regular Kelp or Bladderwrack, the two main Western varietiesof sea vegetables are Dulse, which is used as a food and condiment, and Irish Moss, which is an important nutritive tonic used in Western herbalmedicine. If you are to make seavegetables an important part of your diet and health regimen, it behooves youto know how to cook and prepare them in a tasty, appealing manner. I hope that the following material will be agood introduction.

Kombu
(genus Laminaria) isthe Japanese sea vegetable that comes closest to Kelp, or Bladderwrack in itsoverall properties and characteristics.  The Chinese call it Hai Dai, or“sea belt”, because it resembles a thick and wide leather belt or sash. The most common way that Kombu is used in Japanese cuisine is that it is boiled or decoctedto make a savory soup stock, which is called Kombu Dashi. This isessentially the same thing as Kombu tea,or Kombucha, of which I spokeearlier. Or, pieces of Kombu can be cooked up in soups andstews – but keep in mind, since Kombu isquite hard and thick when dry, it needs to be boiled and then simmered gentlyfor a long period of time in order to make it tender enough to just melt inyour mouth.

Wakame
(Undaria pinnatifida)  is a dark green color, and isconsiderably thinner and lighter in its overall nature and texture than Kombu. Whereas Kombu needs to beboiled and simmered slowly, for a long time, all you need to do with Wakame is to put some in a shallow dishor bowl and cover it with water, and fifteen to twenty minutes later, it’sready to use, or even to eat, as is – just strain off and drink the savory soakwater, and it’s ready. You can make adelicious Wakame salad, either with Wakame being the main or only green, oryou can combine it with other salad greens, and toss everything together in abig salad bowl. Since Wakame is probably the most cool andmoist sea vegetable in temperament, it helps to spice up your Wakame salad with liberal amounts offresh Ginger and Garlic, seasoned also with soy sauce, sesame oil and perhapseven a little vinegar or lemon juice.  Yummy!It also goes without sayingthat Wakame can be cooked into soupsand stews in the same manner as Kombu, whereit requires much less cooking to be soft enough to just melt in your mouth.

Arame (Eisenia bicyclis) and Hijiki (Hizikia fusiformis) are both quitesimilar in their physical as well as culinary properties and characteristics inthat they tend to be long and spindly, and a lot harder and more discrete intheir form and structure than Wakame, makingthem a lot less cooling and moistening, and therefore easier on those withslow, sluggish stomachs and digestions. Theyhave a kind of subtle savory, nutty flavor that is quite delicious. You can either boil them by themselves,strain, drink the cooking water, and serve them up with soy sauce and sesameoil, or you can cook them into soups and stews in much the same way as Kombu or Wakame.
Nori (Porphyria spp. ) is also called Laver, and is eventhinner and lighter than Wakame, beingeither a dark green or purplish color.  Typically, Nori is pressedtogether into what could be called “seaweed paper” sheets, which can theneither be eaten as is, or used to wrap Sushi rolls in. In many supermarkets these days, you can buypackaged seaweed snacks, which consist of small pieces of seaweed paper madefrom Nori, which have usually beenlightly toasted and salted for extra flavor.  Delicious and nutritious!

Dulse (Palmariaspp. ) is aparticularly tasty and particularly purple variety of seaweed, which grows alot off the northeast coast of North America.  It seems to be the saltiest of the various varieties of sea vegetables,and for this reason, Dulse flakes are often sprinkled on food instead of saltfor those with dietary restrictions that forbid the use of table salt, likehigh blood pressure. It seems likeSodium Chloride, or table salt, by itself, especially in excess, can raiseblood pressure and lead to fluid retention as well, but when you’re taking in afull, complete and complementary assortment of all the major cell salts thatyour body needs, in organic form, in this tasty seaweed, there are no suchhealth risks. As I said earlier,munching on some dried Dulse is a great “pick me up” and restorative after along hike or workout, or in swelteringly hot summer weather, to replace vitalmineral salts and electrolytes that have been lost due to sweating.

Irish Moss (Chondruscrispus) is awhite or pale colored seaweed that is the source for Crageenan Gum, which is acommon stabilizer and emulsifier used in many foods, from ice cream totoothpaste to baked goods. As amedicinal herb, Irish Moss is typically cooked up into a kind of porridge; allit takes is a couple of tablespoons in a cup of water, and its abundantmucilage, or Carageenan Gum, thickens the brew to a porridge-likeconsistency. Irish Moss is most commonlyused as a nutritive tonic to restore the health of those who have suffered fromchronic respiratory ailments, and also to help with expelling phlegm from thelungs. A bowl of Irish Moss porridgewill also lubricate the bowels and add a lot of soft fiber or bulk to theintestinal tract, which is useful either in treating chronic constipation or inweight loss regimens, since the added intestinal bulk helps to reduce theappetite. Like other sea vegetables,Irish Moss is also a tonic and stimulant to the thyroid gland due to its iodinecontent, as well as helping the body to detoxify from radiation, heavy metals,and other forms of environmental pollution and toxicity.

Sources: Kelp or Kale: Is Seaweed a Superfood?
Sea vegetables
The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason, ND – pp. 126 – 127 (Irish Moss) and 130 – 132 (Kelp).  Copyright 1995 by Jack Ritchason.  Published by Woodland Health Books, Pleasant Grove, Utah, USA.

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.