Podcast 163: Can Seaweeds Fix Everything?

Seaweeds are really talented. Like, really talented! They can help out with such a wide array of problems that you might feel a little skeptical at first. “Come on, how could seaweeds fix everything on that list?? I mean… what do high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and leaky gut syndrome even have in common, anyway?”

We understand the skepticism! But the truth is, seaweeds really can help out with a ton of different troubles. How? They’re addressing core deficiencies and needs of the body, that’s how. Complex, sea-balanced mineral nutrition gives your body the opportunity to resolve much more than low calcium levels. Immune-modulating polysaccharides improve not only your defense against pathogens, but also your gut flora microbiome composition, and your levels of systemic inflammation. These core-level supports explain why seaweed can help out with such a wide array of issues.

So while it’s not literally true that seaweeds fix everything that might go wrong in a human body, they sure can help with a lot! Listen to our discussion to learn more and get some ideas about how to start incorporating seaweed in your life.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • Atlantic Holdfast – our favorite seaweed supplier: better-than-organic quality, great price!

Seaweeds are among the 90 herbs we profile in-depth in our Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. It’s the foundation of our herbalist training program and a great way to get started if you’re new to herbalism. Course enrollment includes access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with Ryn & Katja!

Materia Medica

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:00):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:15):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:00:24):
So it was our seventh wedding anniversary this past week. And we went to the ocean, because we really liked to do that. And while we were there, we saw a lot of seaweed. And we got really excited, because we really love seaweed. And we wanted to share some of that excitement with you today.

Ryn (00:00:46):
Seaweeds, we like them. Yes, it is the truth. So yeah, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. But first let’s just take a moment to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:00:57):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (00:01:09):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (00:01:24):
And everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (00:01:34):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make. Yeah. So you might decide to have seaweed in your life. And I guess maybe it’d be good to start out with some real practical ways to accomplish that, you know? Because sometimes it’s like, oh yeah, seaweed or even herbs. They’re good. You should go get them. And then you say to yourself, uh, I don’t know. Should I go to a store? Is Amazon involved? What’s going on here?

Sourcing, Forms, & Flavor

Katja (00:02:17):
Actually, that’s true. And we do have a favorite seaweed harvester. This is a fellow named Micah Woodcock, and he is in far north Maine. He is the fellow who runs Atlantic Holdfast. That’s the name of the company? And the website is atlanticholdfast.com. And he doesn’t actually even know that we’re saying this. We just really love his seaweed. And he’s like super conscientious, and harvests very responsibly, and harvest really high quality stuff. So if seaweed is totally new for you and you’re like wow. Katja and Ryn are talking about some really cool things. Then then check out his website. And heck, tell him we sent you. He’ll be surprised, but probably happy.

Ryn (00:03:07):
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great place to get it from. And you know, it’ll come either in medium-sized dried pieces or else chopped up as dried seaweed.

Katja (00:03:20):
Like confetti. Seaweed confetti. And, you know, actually those pieces, like the sort of shape of the seaweed, kind of also dictates how you work with it. So we’re going to talk about topical application of seaweed, like putting it onto different types of situations right on your skin. And so for that you would want those larger pieces, just because it’s easier to put that on your skin.

Ryn (00:03:46):
Yeah. You can just hydrate them. Soak them in water for a moment until they get soft and flexible. And then go ahead and put them right on or wrap them around somewhere where, well, there could be a lot of things going on. But as a topical application, that’s a super simple way. And that’s where we get seaweed wraps, you know? And you can do wraps with large leaves. If you have a giant mullein leaf or something, you can do that. But with seaweed it’s, I mean, sometimes they’re kind of like a lasagna noodle. Long and not too wide, and just perfect for wrapping around a wrist or an ankle or other parts that would need it.

Katja (00:04:22):
Yeah. So then if you get that confetti kind, that is the best for eating, well, in my opinion. And I will admit that seaweed is an acquired taste for me. I had to…

Ryn (00:04:36):
You had to acquire it.

Katja (00:04:38):
Yeah, I had to acquire it. I had to learn to appreciate seaweed.

Ryn (00:04:41):
You were convinced that it was a good idea before you were super enthusiastic about having it.

Katja (00:04:50):
Yeah. And I mean, I might even say that I am not to the point today where I would really want to eat a whole bowl of seaweed all by itself. And I know that some people do find that quite appealing. But wherever you are on the taste spectrum for seaweed, the thing here is that it’s that confetti sized pieces that really is the key. Because you can put it into anything. You can put it into anything that you boil like rice. You can put it into anything that you’re sautéing, any kind of soup, any kind of stew. Even if you are like putting food in the crockpot, so that it’s slow cooking. You can put it in there. And you can really decide kind of how much seaweed flavor you want in the meal. You can just put a little bit, or you can put a lot. But that is how I learned. Is with, you know, just a little sprinkle of them boiled in with some rice and then gradually increasing until it was a savory flavor that I appreciated.

Ryn (00:05:56):
Yeah, savory is the right word for it. And you know, umami would be a fair word for this as well. Seaweeds can add that kind of richness, that savory, meaty, umami, you know, however you describe that to meals. We don’t, you know, eat vegan or vegetarian. But I do know a number of vegan and vegetarian folks who work with seaweed just intentionally to add that kind of flavor profile to food. Especially if you get, you know, some mushrooms together with some seaweeds, then that’s kind of moving into those flavor spaces. And it may not be super easy to get to those with a veggie based diet. So that can be really appealing. Honestly, some of that savoriness, that umami flavor in seaweed is coming from glutamates. Oh, don’t freak out, right? It’s not MSG. It’s naturally occurring glutamates in the food. And you know, they’re not going to give you headaches or troubles or whatever else. But they do lend that depth. And like why do people put MSG into their processed food or their whatever else? Because of the savoriness, because of that umami depth. And because that’s appealing and makes us want to eat more of the fill-in-the-blank processed food product. So working with seaweed is a much better way to achieve that same kind of thing.

Katja (00:07:22):
Well, I think the MSG is kind of…You know, when our body wants to eat more of a thing, that is a form of communication. That is the body saying this thing is good for me. And now right off the bat, you might be thinking, but I want to eat more donuts. And that actually is your body saying this thing is good for me. It’s just that our bodies didn’t know that donuts existed. And so that impulse that I want to eat more sugary, fatty, delicious things comes from a cajillion years ago. When the fat was hard to come by, sugar, well, sugar was only naturally occurring. And that wasn’t easy to come by either. And those types of calories were really necessary so that we would be able to survive through the winter when food was more scarce. So that kind of reward feeling for donuts today, which are not scarce, is actually based in that more ancient communication between our body and our desires to help us to make sure that we had what we needed to survive. And so when we have that kind of craving feeling or food reward feeling for other flavors, it’s really good to kind of investigate that. And when we have that for that umami flavor, a lot of that is coming from mineral content. And the body is saying, oh, I really appreciate the mineral content and the like complexity that’s in here. Some of that mineral content and message we also get when we’re craving salt. But there’s more complexity to the profile in seaweed. There’s like the minerals together with, you know, other phytochemicals that the body wants. And so that’s why we crave that flavor. But naturally occurring glutamates in seaweed are really different than the synthetic ones in MSG.

It’s Good for People & Soil

Ryn (00:09:21):
Yeah. Right. And you know, seaweeds are good foods for people. They’ve also at times been good foods for other sorts of life. I think you taught me about some sheep that were like living on some rocky islands off of…where was that?

Katja (00:09:39):
The Shetland Islands. So I raised, when I was farming in Vermont, I raised Shetland sheep. And Shetland sheep, it’s a breed of sheep that people actually thought were extinct. They were actually listed as extinct. And then suddenly a really large flock was discovered living completely independently on the Shetland islands. And one of their major food sources was seaweed. And they would swim into the water to eat the seaweed. And incidentally, they have been recovered. They’re now off the endangered list, because they have been sort of stewarded back to a healthy population that can exist. But yeah, and it’s not just animals, also the soil.

Ryn (00:10:29):
Well, that’s actually what I had in mind. I was thinking about feeding the soil. Yeah. So there are some seaweeds that are not maybe the best as food, you know, for a human or for your mammalian friends. I’m thinking of rockweed here. But it’s a really, really fantastic soil. And you may have even seen up here in New England at the garden centers. There’s this particular company, and they have this…

Katja (00:10:58):
It’s pink. It’s like Coastal Maine or something.

Ryn (00:11:01):
Right. But they have fertilizer that’s like lobster shells and composted stuff, you know, fish bits and whatever, but a bunch of seaweed as well. And that’s really good stuff. It really feeds that garden deeply.

Katja (00:11:13):
Well, and so this starts to get into why seaweed is so important to our practice, right? Because one of the things that we’ll talk about is this mineral content. And the fact that whether we’re talking about commercial agriculture, or honestly, even if we’re talking about gardens in your backyard, fertilizer does not provide a full spectrum of minerals. Even if you’re composting, you might not be getting the full spectrum of minerals. Because you have to be putting those minerals into the compost. If we think about things like kale and spinach that are supposed to have lots of mineral content, the problem is that if the soil doesn’t have mineral content, then the plant doesn’t have it. And because our fertilizers, especially our commercial, agricultural fertilizers, don’t have a full spectrum of minerals, the mineral content has been decreasing in green leafy vegetables and all other foods. Not just vegetable foods, but even in like animals who eat the vegetable foods, including humans. Drastically, it has been decreasing drastically. And so providing this high mineral rich supplementation to your soil is really important.

Ryn (00:12:34):
Yeah. And there have been those changes driven just by agricultural land use patterns. Now we’re seeing a different kind of nutrient diminishment in the food supply being driven by changing temperatures and by climate change. And that seems to be impacting especially protein production in a lot of land plants. There may be effects like that on the sea plants as well. But I guess what I have in mind here is that seaweed isn’t only a mineral source, although that’s substantial and worth a lot. But seaweed is also a source for proteins. Seaweed you know, we should say, it’s not a plant. It’s an algae, so that’s a different kingdom of life. You’ve got your plants. You’ve got your animals. You’ve got your fungi. You’ve got your algae. They’re all a little bit different from each other. But the Algae kingdom does provide some really excellent proteins for human nutrition. And so their good to incorporate for that reason as well. To get that benefit, like always when we talk about getting protein from herbs, you do need to actually consume the plant material. Proteins don’t really come out into tea or into, in this case, broth. So, we’ve got to find a way where you can make your seaweed appealing.

Katja (00:13:58):
Yeah, but confetti sized seaweed, you know. You barely even notice it.

Ryn (00:14:02):
Yeah. Stir it up into the rice or mixed veggies or whatever, comes right through. There’s another method too though to eat seaweed with. You can make seaweed chips, you know, if you have slightly larger pieces. And then you can maybe like spray them or paint them with a little bit of oil. And put them into the oven and roast them for a bit. And make your own seaweed chips, and then treat them like chips, you know. They’re salty. They’re crunchy. They’ve got those savory flavors. You can dust herbal spices all over them to give them the kind of flavor that most appeals to you, whether that’s spicy or a little touch of sweetness or whatever else. But they’re actually pretty flexible in terms of like being a base for different flavor combinations.

Katja (00:14:47):
Okay. Well, I want to talk a little bit about all the things that seaweed do – like why would we go to all this trouble – in your body. And in doing that, it’s going to sound a little bit like a kind of magical thinking kind of scenario. Because there are so many places where seaweed can have very strong impact on the body. And so I want to talk about all the things that seaweed can do and then talk about why it can do that. I don’t just want to tell you, and then you just sort of have to believe me. I want us to kind of explain the mechanism of action behind a lot of these things. And before we jump into that, I also am thinking about how seaweed really turns up in almost every course that we teach. So you probably know we have a whole online school. And we teach courses about all different subjects. And I think that seaweed is literally in every single one of them.

Ryn (00:15:51):
And if not, then we can find a way to incorporate it in there.

Katja (00:15:55):
And you might be thinking like, well, it’s in digestive health. It’s in neurological and emotional health. It’s in first aid. It’s in musculoskeletal. It’s like helpful for skin stuff. It’s like, why is it in cardiovascular health? Why is it in all these places? And so that’s exactly what I want to talk about. But first I do want to take just one quick moment, since we did mention the schools and let you know that in our school you can take all kinds of courses with us.

Ryn (00:16:26):
Yeah. We have a la carte offerings. You know, some that are just like on a relatively small subject, like our course on seasonal and environmental allergies, or our course on holistic methods to get better sleep, right? And then we have some longer courses that are a little more in depth, like our material medical course, where we highlight at least 90 medicinal plants and talk about them in their depth, in their complexity. And you know, you can choose to kind of just pick the ones that catch your interest. And start anywhere. Start where you are.

Katja (00:17:04):
Or, we also have a whole three year program. And I say three years, because that’s sort of about how long it takes folks to get through it. But actually all of our courses are lifetime access. So it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you. You will never be kicked out. You will never have to buy it again, none of that stuff. It is just like once you’re there, you’re there. And you will always have it to review, and you can go at your own pace. But about three years is sort of a good target for a program that can train you. Whether you want to actually have a career as an herbalist, or you just really want to be an expert for yourself and for your family and your loved ones. And it starts with the Family Herbalist program, which gives you your toolkit. It gives you the…currently it’s 90 herbs. We add some every so often. And all the things to do with them, all the different ways to make medicines from them and products and treats, even. Right now we’re up to 52 different ways, but that we add to every so often as well. And then you can move on to the Community Herbalist program. Whereas in Family Herbalists we really introduce all of the herbs on their own, so that you can get to know them as individuals. And then in the Community Herbalist program we go in the opposite direction. We say here are all the things that can go wrong in the digestive system. And here are herbs that you might consider working with to support that stuff. And so you get a solid education about how to work with herbs and how to choose the right herbs from both directions. You really get that sort of full perspective on them.

Ryn (00:18:49):
Yeah. So this, you know, sequence of courses that we’ve kind of laid out is designed to give you that flexibility and that ability to work with health problems whether your own or people in your community, in a comprehensive and holistic way, right? Where we’re not the kind of herbalists who will teach you when you have this problem, take that herb. We’re going to teach you how to look at an individual in their individuality and in their wholeness, and to see all the different influences in their life and in their habits and in the kind of work that they do, and the kind of stressors they experience that may be impacting a given state of health. And ways to work with herbs to enhance and to accelerate work that can be done through lifestyle changes and through habit formation, which is where the lasting change is really going to come from.

Katja (00:19:54):
You know, and also it’s kind of exciting because there are so many ways. Like if you just say well, this is your herb for this problem and that doesn’t work, you’re sort of out of luck. But if you have a lot of different approaches that you can take, that means that what if one particular approach doesn’t appeal to somebody that you’re working with? No problem. I’ve got more. Like we’ll find one that will work for you. And so it’s just a lot more flexibility. Once you’ve completed those programs, you can also move into the Clinical Herbalist program. And you know, really learn how to do this work clinically. And then there are mentorships after that as well, where we will support you as you move into practice. Or support you as you move into business if you want to have like an herbal products making business or stuff like that. And even support you if you want to become a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild.

Ryn (00:20:51):
Yeah. A to Z. Acalea to Zizyphus, I suppose.

Katja (00:21:00):
Yes, there you go. So anyway seaweed, back to the point here, is going to play a huge role all the way through this whole progression. And you know, that might seem kind of strange. I know for me that seems strange. First off, I grew up in Texas. And so, sea things were not a part of my life except for like Red Lobster and Long John Silver. Like, if it didn’t have hush puppies basically, I didn’t really know what to do with it. I didn’t learn how to eat fish until I was an adult. I didn’t know anything about seaweed. I didn’t even know it existed. And so if you grew up like me, then maybe the idea of seaweed and focusing so heavily on it, or like working with it so much, might seem a little weird. But actually in terms of human existence, seaweed has always been a super critical part of human health of human lives.

Ryn (00:21:59):
Yeah. And people recognized this way back when. It’s interesting, because there’s archeological evidence of trade between coastal areas and inland or upland areas basically everywhere that you have those. By which I mean, like, you find evidence for this in south America. You know, people way up high in the Andes mountains, trading with people who lived along the coast to get seaweed, and to bring that deep, oceanic, mineral content up the hill. When you live on top of a mountain your minerals wash away. You know, they wash downhill so you have to work real hard. And, you know, people work with specific plants that concentrate that, like horsetail, for instance. But there’s also, again, this evidence of trading for seaweed, because of a recognition that it was providing something essential. And we see that all over the world.

Mineral Content & Messaging

Katja (00:22:52):
Yeah. On all the continents there are archeological examples of that. And even archeological examples of that trade continuing even in times of war. So, that is like an indication of how truly important seaweed really has always been for people. And so I think maybe the first approach is that mineral content. It is kind of the most obvious. And that mineral content can do so many things. And in modern, like, you know, okay…so one thing is it helps to resolve breaks and strains and sprains, which makes a lot of sense. Because you need minerals right in that location. Those are the raw materials with which you’re going to regrow your bone. So that’s not a stretch. You’re like, no, no, that makes a lot of sense. That’s totally logical.

Ryn (00:23:44):
It’s like oh yeah. I want to fix a broken bone. Or I want to try to prevent or wind back, you know, something where the bone is breaking down too fast. Or it’s having more breakdown than build up, you know, pattern going on, which might manifest later on down the line as osteoporosis. So we all kind of have that understanding like oh yeah. You need to get the calcium in there. The thing is for this purpose, and really for all of the like mineral nutritive purposes we’re going to discuss here, it’s not just about like the big famous minerals. Your calcium and your iron and so on. It’s also minerals that are maybe recognized now as important, but not as abundant in the land-based food supply. Like magnesium, for instance, is a super critical mineral involved in hundreds of different reactions in our body as a catalyst or as a key agent. Really critically important when it comes to the neuromuscular junction, which we’re going to come back to in just a moment. But then there’s another step down where we talk about trace minerals. And trace minerals are ones where you know, the way our teacher said it was it’s like a pinch of salt in an Olympic sized swimming pool. That’s the concentration level you need in your blood. So it’s super, super tiny. But when it’s not there, we run into problems. And they can be kind of, you know, hard to see problems or hard to detect. Where there’s a little enzymatic conversion that’s not happening at the same rate it should be. Or there’s some kind of relatively minor chemical signal in your body that’s not being constructed the way it ought to, because of given mineral is lacking. And so these kinds of issues, they’re actually quite common in our current society again, because of the nature of the food supply.

Katja (00:25:40):
Listen, it sounds really small. But if you think about it, what you just said was some messaging, some communication in the body isn’t happening of various different types, right? And that sounds like a tiny thing, but then that leads to bigger problems. And so imagine it like this: you’re driving your car, and there’s a problem with the oil pressure. And your oil light does not come on in the car. And your check engine light does not turn on in the car. So you don’t do anything. You don’t take any action to resolve the problem, because you don’t know that there’s a problem. And so that’s a like tiny little thing. But like, if you know anything about cars, if your engine runs out of oil, your car is done. Like you’re done, you’re all done. And that happens in the body too. If we’re not getting these messages, if the critical communications are not happening, then much larger problems result. So, it can seem like it’s not important. Like what? A pinch of salt in an Olympic sized swimming pool? Come on, that can’t be important. And yet the check engine light is pretty important.

Ryn (00:26:51):
Yeah. It’s going to matter, you know. And again, these are things that might run on for a while. And by that I mean, possibly years, you know, and kind of gradually worsen and gradually worsen. And ultimately you end up with something that’s deep and involved, and it’s going to take some time to work out. But if we can provide this stuff if, we can access this with the help of our seaweeds, then we can stave those things off long before they start. That seems good.

Katja (00:27:21):
You know, I think two of the places in the body where that shows up more than anywhere else, or like in the most recognizable form, is in neurological and mental health and in endocrine health. And those are like, that’s the primary communication junction of the body, right? And so when we see a lot of hormonal breakdown going on in the body. And we can take like a really basic example, that is probably pretty recognizable, and talk about thyroid issues. And like if you hear the words thyroid issues, then probably one of the first things that comes to your mind is oh, iodine, right? Because we’re pretty solid, in like mainstream culture, that like iodine has something to do with the thyroid, right? You don’t have to be like a health researcher or whatever to make that connection. And that’s true. Iodine plays a huge role there.

Ryn (00:28:21):
And seaweed has lots of iodine to offer.

Katja (00:28:23):
Right. But there are so many other minerals that have to be also in place. And you know, just one example is that it’s actually not easy to supplement iodine. It’s complicated on multiple levels. But one of them is that it has to be in relationship with selenium, and it has to be in relationship with some other things as well. Kind of like they started putting magnesium into the calcium supplements, because they realized that there’s a relationship there. And the reality is that these relationships are actually very complex. It’s not like a partnership kind of relationship. You know, it’s a community kind of relationship. And so all of the minerals have to be there in order for those communications to work properly. But we’ve seen clients who committed to having bone broth daily with seaweed in it. And that was like basically the only consistent intervention in their lives. Yeah, they tried to eat better. They tried to sleep more. They tried to, you know, but…

Ryn (00:29:29):
Avoid some food allergens, always helps with these issues, you know?

Katja (00:29:31):
Yeah. So they tried all those things with whatever degree of success. Maybe on Tuesday it didn’t go so well, but like whatever. They tried that most of the time. But the one thing that they really committed to was broth with seaweed in it every day. And they also…there’s a couple folks who I have in mind right now who were clients who also became students. And so they really kept very, very good notes and data about what was going on in their body as they were studying. And in one year there were just drastic turnarounds in health. And even drastic turnarounds that permitted them to better tolerate. Have better resilience for the days when they, you know, whoops ate a pizza. Or oops, went to bed at two this morning, you know, whatever. Just because of the consistency around that mineral intake.

Ryn (00:30:33):
Yeah. It’s kind of making me think of similar results we’ve seen with people who had maybe complex problems going on or had many layers of issue, and just committed to drinking some nettle tea every day. And where there’s certain things where you’re like yeah. Of course that’s going to cause an obvious improvement like in a kidney problem or a urinary system issue or something like that. Or maybe something to do with histamine excess, because of what we know about nettle and the way it can help out with those things. But you can see improvements in a lot of different issues, including mental and emotional patterns and so on. So, we see that with nettle pretty frequently. But like you’re saying here, we’ve also encountered that with seaweed. And it’s good, think, to call that out. And be like it’s not about nettle being a magical cure-all panacea herb for everything. And it’s not about seaweed being a magical panacea cure-all algae for everything either. It’s that they’re addressing these kind of central needs.

Katja (00:31:33):
Yeah. The sort of chronic depletion of…

Ryn (00:31:35):
Yeah. And it’s actually happened a couple of times now since we sort of like had these experiences and realizations on the conscious level too. That I’ve had clients where I’m like you know. I would totally give you a nettle tea every day, except you’ve got that dry constitution. And we don’t want to just flood you with nettle. And like, okay, there’s strategies. You can give like a 50/50 nettle and linden blend for some folks, and that’ll do the trick. But I’ve had a few where I’ve been like I want you to get seaweed in you every day. Maybe as broth, maybe even as a decoction, you know, like a long cooked tea essentially. And really, really focus on that, because it’s going to support you. And it’s going to have a moistening quality that your body really needs. So, that’s something that I’ve actually found really successful in the willing Guinea pigs who’ve been ready to go down that path.

Digestive & Cardiac Support

Katja (00:32:35):
Yeah. You know, and that can sort of transition us over to digestive health, because seaweed can be tremendously helpful here, for actually, specifically, both of those reasons, right? Because of the mineral content, and because of the hydration, moistening mucus membrane supporting action that seaweed has. And I’m thinking specifically about situations like heartburn, where we have a hot, damaged, inflamed environment. That actually, most frequently believe it or not is because of not having enough stomach acid. And when you don’t have enough stomach acid, it changes the way that your body uses its stomach acid. And it makes it more likely through a variety of reasons that are kind of a long story – but don’t worry, it’s all in the digestive health course – to explain all the different mechanisms. Why not enough stomach acid is leading to heartburn in the esophagus. And even though it seems counter-intuitive, that’s actually what’s going on. And so when we work with something like seaweed, one of the main ingredients in stomach acid, like when your body is producing stomach acid, it’s going to require different things to make it. And one of them is magnesium. And so eating seaweed provides you with raw materials to make more stomach acid, while also simultaneously healing the mucus membrane. And soothing it and allowing it to regrow so that the damage from the heartburn gets resolved.

Ryn (00:34:22):
Yeah. So, it’s those raw materials, I mean, including the sodium. You know, there’s some sodium in your seaweeds, right? And there’s some chloride in the seaweeds as well. And when we talk about hydrochloric acid you know. Okay, that’s where that’s coming from. And then it’s also like helping your stomach cells produce what they need to. And so they, again, they need the proper nourishment. We don’t always think about the self-action of organs, you know. Like your stomach needs to nourish its own cells. Your heart needs to pump its own blood. You know, things like that,

Katja (00:35:00):
Right. It’s not just that your stomach feeds the rest of your body. Also your stomach needs to be fed. Yeah.

Ryn (00:35:03):
Right, yeah. Your lungs need to provide oxygen to the lung cells. So, all of this kind of like self-activity. And those can be places where when things go wrong, they go real wrong. You know, a heart attack is, from one perspective it’s the heart itself not having adequate blood circulation. And so of course that’s going to be problems for everybody in the body, you know? Seaweeds can help the heart.

Katja (00:35:32):
Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, that’s two, yeah.

Ryn (00:35:33):
So when we think about seaweed, we think about a softening medicine, right? It’s moistening. It’s hydrating. They’re relaxant in nature. These are consistent qualities that all your different seaweeds are going to have. And so I might look at someone and see a person with a diagnosis, you know, high blood pressure, hypertension. Okay. Okay. But we see a body, and we see tension. We see dryness. And so it’s not surprising that the pressure is going to rise, right? Those blood vessels are constricted. The fluids are a little kind of…they’re not dried up, but they’re moving in that direction. And so that can be one of the manifestations of high blood pressure. And seaweed fits that one really, really well. It’s going to help to hydrate that body on a really deep level, from the inside out. It’s got electrolytes, you know. It’s better than Gatorade, let’s say. So, it’s going to provide that. Because you don’t just need to push water into a body like this. If you just drink plain water, then it might flow right through that body. What’s electrolytes? They’re mineral content that enable your body to more effectively hydrate itself, and to deliver moisture where it’s needed most. So even just on that level we can see benefit. But of course seaweeds have antioxidants. They have things that can help to reduce inflammatory problems in the body, including in the blood vessels, which is where you’re going to run into problems like high cholesterol readings, right? That’s a result of damage, irritation, or inflammation in the blood vessels. And your body’s trying to repair that. And that’s what the cholesterol is in there doing, you know. So, seaweed can help to wind that down. And then with seaweeds in reference to the heart there, you also get this impact of seaweed where it’s really about nourishing the fluid itself, right? The blood itself needs to be top quality.

Katja (00:37:39):
You know, it’s like how people say that there’s an ocean inside me. You know, like that’s actually true. Your blood has saltiness to it. It has mineral content in it. Or it should in order to flow.

Ryn (00:37:55):
Yeah. Even again, you know, think of trace nutrients, these tiny little minerals we don’t need an iron sized serving of, but we do need some. Chromium is an example. And chromium content in some certain seaweeds is pretty potent. That’s a mineral, but it serves to enhance the activity of a hormone called insulin, which you might’ve heard of. So insulin is there helping to get excess sugar out of the bloodstream where it can only cause problems, and into the cells where it can actually be helpful and useful as a fuel. And not just the sugar, but also other kinds of nutrients to pass them into the cells. So here you have a mineral that can help you work with or help you utilize your other minerals more effectively. It can help you utilize other kinds of nutrients and vitamins more efficiently in the body.

Katja (00:38:46):
You know, plus while we’re still in cardiovascular health – but this is going to start branching out into lots of other areas – the seaweed has really marked anti-inflammatory actions. And so whether we’re talking about inflammation in the cardiovascular system specifically, like arterial inflammation, or honestly whether we’re talking about inflammation from a sports injury or from arthritic kinds of… Arthritis isn’t an injury, but maybe insults. That that is going to be drastically reduced. And there are multiple mechanisms of action for the anti-inflammatory aspect of seaweeds. And the first one where like, I just can’t get away from the mineral content. Because we think about inflammation in the nervous system and messages around pain and inflammation in particular, minerals do play a big role in the communication of those messages. And so you know, that’s kind of just scratching the surface. But I just figured I would mention it, because I am all about the mineral content there.

Inflammation, Fluid Flow, Pain Messaging, and Skin Issues

Ryn (00:39:57):
Right, right. Yeah. So that’s part of it. There’s also, you know, certainly when we look at herbs there’s a modern tendency to be like oh. What’s the antioxidant compound? What’s the active ingredient, people will say. And there are some things in seaweed that are unique, particularly a variety of specific polysaccharides that are immune modulating and inflammation reducing. Certain ones are actually prebiotic or are going to have a beneficial effect on your gut flora. And you know, we can name individual ones. We can talk about alginates and we can talk about fucoidan, and we can talk about these things. And that’s all fun and exciting, and we like to dig in and nerd out there sometimes. But we could also just say that there are certain structures that exist on this planet only when they’re produced by seaweeds. And our bodies respond to them in moderating kinds of ways, right? They take a tendency towards inflammation, and they dial it down to keep it where it’s just enough to do the important jobs that inflammation does. But not so much that it’s out there causing collateral damage, right?

Katja (00:41:16):
Yeah. I think that is a really good way to say it. And I think also that instead of looking for that active ingredient, which they have identified several chemical constituents that do that work specifically. But to instead look at it as listen, it’s this whole category of polysaccharides that are in the seaweeds. And also not even just that. There are other components in the seaweeds that do that too. So if we’re looking for kind of the scientific justification, all right. We can find it in the fucoidan, and we can find it in various individual polysaccharide content. But from my perspective, we also find it just in the demulcent action of the seaweeds, because inflammation is so frequently dry. Not 100% of the time, but very frequently dry. And so just the moistening in general provides some anti-inflammatory action as well. And so kind of recognizing that on one hand you can get very specific about individual constituents, but on the other hand to keep that really broad spectrum. They have many different mechanisms of anti-inflammatory action.

Ryn (00:42:32):
Yeah. Yeah. And like you said, that includes for wound care. You know, so if you sprain an ankle, and you do a seaweed wrap over it, that’s really very effective to modulate the inflammatory response to the injury. Again, just enough to help to heal that wound. It is necessary. You have to have that much inflammation. But too much is only going to slow down that process, you know, and make it more painful in the meantime.

Katja (00:42:59):
Right. You really want the exact amount that will get the healing done and not more, but also not less. Like very Goldilocks.

Ryn (00:43:07):
Yeah. And especially if maybe you have a dry constitution. You get a sprain. There will be some swelling, you know, some direction of fluid there. But it might not circulate too well. When we do a seaweed wrap it does help to hydrate multiple layers of tissue much more effectively, and to improve fluid circulation throughout them. So, that really does help with that healing process. And yeah, the minerals come back here, you know. When we think about mineral provision, we almost always imagine it like solely from a kind of bag of soup idea. Where it’s like you, the person, are a bag of soup. And as long as we put the right mineral powder into you, then it’s going to get in there and do the job. But you can be very direct about this. You can say like I have an injury, a break, a sprain. You know, whatever it is I’m going to need to re reconstitute some tissue. I put the seaweed right there. You absorb the minerals and those nutrients straight through the skin. And you get them right where you need them most. So they don’t have to wait to be digested and circulated and deposited and everything. You put them right where you need them.

Katja (00:44:12):
This is particularly helpful for people who are the opposite, right? People who hold a lot of fluid. And when you hold a lot fluid, even if it isn’t all the way to edema. Even if it’s just sort of like you know, just a little bit of swelling on a consistent basis, that is creating a traffic jam for the fluids in your body. And so what’s really going on there is that nutrients can’t get to all the different parts of the body where they’re required. And so that is why, let’s say you have frequent edema in the lower legs. Or like not all the way to edema, but just, you know, extra fluid. And then you get a wound, and it heals a lot more slowly than it might heal on your arm or something like that. It’s because the trash from healing the wound isn’t getting carried away at the right speed. And the nutrients to repair the damage are not getting through at the right speed, because there is all this extra fluid in the way that’s just creating this big old traffic jam. And so in that situation, if we can deliver the nutrients directly to the area…Okay, like free flowing fluids is a thing. It’s my new favorite statement. Like I want a bumper sticker. Like we need to make sure in the body that all the fluids are moving. There is ample exchange of nutrients, exchange of trash, all that stuff. But in the moment of having an injury like, okay, we’ll work on that, on that fixing the lymphatic flow later. Right now we just need to resolve this injury. And so put the nutrients right where they’re needed. I keep pointing at my ankle as we’re saying this.

Ryn (00:45:58):
Yeah. Or that toe you broke that time.

Katja (00:46:01):
Oh my goodness.

Ryn (00:46:02):
And we were like…this was many years ago at this point. You know, we were walking around outside barefoot.

Katja (00:46:11):
We were doing an herb walk. And I was so excited about a plant. And I didn’t notice that there was this root sticking up. And I just kicked it.

Ryn (00:46:17):
Yeah. You cracked it. It was the tiny toe. You cracked it good. It was a whole separate.

Katja (00:46:23):
Yeah. It was really gross.

Ryn (00:46:25):
So, we thought well, okay. We’ll do some stuff for the pain you know, some oral tinctures and this. But then, you know, let’s get some seaweed on there. Try to start that mineral reconstruction going on. And get some calcium in place, get some magnesium in place, and get that started.

Katja (00:46:44):
And I had done that so many times with other people, right? Like I’d seen it speed the repair process drastically, just drastically speed the repair process. And so there wasn’t any question. Like of course we were going to put seaweed on it, because I’ve seen it work so many times. What I did not expect back then was when I put it on, it also relieved the pain really drastically. I mean, reduced it down to almost nothing. And as long as the seaweed was on there, it really didn’t hurt.

Ryn (00:47:22):
Yeah. And don’t read this backwards, right? This isn’t us saying that seaweed is a painkiller, or even necessarily that the seaweed was dulling the nerve signal of pain that would translate up the body to the brain. And that’s how you experience it. I think the largest thing going on here was that the seaweed was releasing tension in that injured area. And imagine that you’ve got a little piece of broken bone. And now the muscles all around are all clamped down. They’re freaking out. They’re squeezing it down. And of course it’s not quite lined up right. And so there’s some things that are rubbing or poking into a nerve tissue in the wrong direction. And so if you can release that compensatory or reactive tension, then all right. That pain fades away.

Katja (00:48:06):
On the other hand, part of the pain signal does, you know, that goes through the nerves. And so that tension is giving…like any broken cell, any tension in cells sends a message that there’s a problem. And that problem gets interpreted as pain in your brain. And part of the role of magnesium in the nerve cells is actually to inhibit certain messages, and kind of to slow down that repetitive pain message. And so kind of both things are happening here. There is that release of the tension and the softening. And there is the bringing in of nutrients to help fix the problem and the reduction of inflammation. But also the reduction of the pain signal itself.

Ryn (00:49:02):
Yeah. So we’ve been talking about kind of close tissue injuries here. But seaweeds can also be helpful if you have scrapes, if you have burns, if you have damaged, split skin and everything. Seaweeds, like any other form of life, need to defend themselves, you know, from infection. So they do have anti-microbial or anti antiseptic qualities that we can access when we work with them as topical remedies. I find seaweeds to be particularly helpful for dry wounds, which could be a burn, you know. You’ve got irritated, dried out tissue. Maybe like just a mild kind of first degree situation going on. You can put the seaweed right on there. It’s going to cool the tissue. It’s going to reduce the heat. It’s going to counteract the dryness. And so that encourages that tissue to heal much more readily, much more completely.

Katja (00:50:00):
Yep. Basically, if you ever get injured, you should make sure to do it at the ocean, is what we’re saying.

Ryn (00:50:06):
Yeah. Good to do. And then also infectious skin issues you can work on them with seaweed. So maybe there’s like a fungal skin infection or actually, particularly with the red seaweeds, they have a very profound effects against viral skin infections including herpes. Several of the red seaweeds have been investigated for that, everywhere from folk practice to scientific controlled trials. Yeah.

Katja (00:50:39):
Seaweed is awesome.

Ryn (00:50:40):
Yeah. So again, we’ve kind of gone all around different body systems, different layers of the body, from kind of like those micro scale, you know, mineral catalysts and junctions and everything up to stuff that you can observe just with your senses. Like oh, seaweed’s slimy. Oh, I’ve got some irritated heartburn feeling in my esophagus. I drink the slimy and I feel better. Yeah.

Katja (00:51:04):
Or like, it feels good on my burn. Yeah.

It Isn’t Magic…Or Maybe A Little

Ryn (00:51:08):
And one thing that you were saying when we were kind of planning this little chat was that you wanted to talk about some of these activities, and the way that seaweed accomplishes these things in many different areas of the body, different systems, different types of problem. And that it’s not like oh, the magic of the seaweed is going to do it.

Katja (00:51:30):
Yeah. I, you know, so many times people will say…maybe it’s somebody that I am meeting for the first time, and they hear that I’m an herbalist. And then they say something like oh, I believe in herbs. And I like it. That’s a nice sentiment. I smile when people say that. But there’s nothing to believe in. You don’t have to believe in it. It isn’t magical. I mean, like, I suppose by some…plants are pretty amazing. And people might use the word magical to talk about that amazingness. But like it can sound like magical thinking when you hear so many different…like how can see we do this and that, and the other thing, and this thing over here. And like come on. That just doesn’t even, that’s not even reasonable. But then when you sit and think about it critically for a little bit, you’re like no, okay. We’ve got these constituents that can do this kind of work. And these systems require that kind of work. And then we’ve got these other types of constituents that can do certain types of work that these other systems require.

Ryn (00:52:37):
Right. And some that are very, very specific. And you’re like okay, we see the direct activity of these defensive molecules that the algae produces. And those are going to help fight the infection, both in the, in the seaweed, but also on your skin. Like we can see it at that level. And then we can see things that are maybe more kind of conceptually diffuse., Like yeah, you need mineral content and a variety of them in a nice balance for all kinds of different functions in your body. Some that are happening at a micro scale and some that are frank deficiencies that you could just look at the body and know what’s going on. So yeah.

Katja (00:53:16):
Yeah, and we don’t even know all of them yet. Like, it’s fine if there are herbs who can do things and we don’t quite understand how or why they’re doing them. Even when we just think about magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that has been super well studied. And so far they’ve found over 400 processes in the body that require magnesium to be in a particular concentration to successfully complete. That doesn’t mean that that’s all, but we found that many so far. And so what does that mean? Well, one of the things it means is that all of those processes are going to do their jobs better if you have seaweed in your life, right? Or, you know, some other magnesium source, but in this case we’re talking about seaweed so. And so, you know, sometimes we just don’t know why something works. We can think it through and try to figure out logical mechanisms of action or potential mechanisms of action, but they haven’t necessarily been studied yet. In the case of seaweed though, there’s been a huge amount of study. And that is exciting. And there are certainly things that we don’t even know about yet.

Ryn (00:54:26):
Yeah. So, you know, in that way we’re not sort of gesturing vaguely in a kind of magical thinking way. But I kind of did also want to just sneak a little bit of magic in here. And you know, for us, a lot of this is built around metaphor and taking metaphor oh, maybe seriously isn’t quite the right word. But respecting the depth of it, let’s say. That sounds pretty good for a sea-oriented thought. My favorite one around seaweed in that regard is to look at some certain seaweeds that grow in a kind of in-between zone. Where for part of their day they’re submerged, and they’re totally in the water doing that little wavy kind of dance that they do, right? But then for part of their day, they’re dried out. They’re in full sun. They’re baking. They’re crispy. You could snap them in half between two fingers, and they’re not dead. They survive. They get through it. They come back to their flexibility again.

Katja (00:55:34):
Yes. Yeah, they don’t get so dehydrated that they break. They just wait there on the rocks. You know, seagulls land on them and trample them a little bit. And, you know, it’s fine. It’s fine. The water is going to come back, and they’re going to be fine.

Ryn (00:55:46):
Yeah. So I think there’s some magic in that experience, right, or that observation. You know, if you sit there on the beach and you watch that happen, or even just kind of give a little mental movie to yourself. Of like that time of being immersed, being surrounded by everything you need. Drawing your nutrients from what’s surrounding you. Drawing your nourishment, if you want a deeper word. And then having times where you are exposed. Where you are, you know, sun struck. But knowing that you’re going to get through it. You’re going to come back and you’re going to be in your fullness again.

Katja (00:56:23):
Yeah. The tide’s going to come in. It’s going to be fine.

Ryn (00:56:26):
So there’s some seaweed magic for you.

Katja (00:56:28):
Okay, actually. Yeah, you’re right. I think we should have started with that.

Ryn (00:56:31):
Well, this is your reward for sticking around for an hour. Oh, and one last thought I had, and I wanted to make sure to say this before we finish. We’ve just been talking about seaweed. We’ve been speaking real generally. And there are so many kinds, right? You’ve got bladderwrack, and you’ve got dulse, and you’ve got Irish moss. And you know, we could go on and on. Kombu and nori and all these different ones. And they do have their distinguishing features, right? But in a way it’s kind of like talking about aromatic mint plants. Thyme, oregano, rosemary.

Katja (00:57:10):
Sage, lavender, yeah.

Ryn (00:57:12):
They have a lot more in common than they do that distinguishes them, from a certain point of view.

Katja (00:57:19):
Well, even if you think about, just think about a steam for respiratory health, right. If you run out of thyme, like we’re always talking about a thyme steam. But if you run out of thyme or if you just don’t like it, sage or rosemary or monarda or lavender or, you know. And so if you think about they’re not the same, but they all get the job done for sure. They’re the same enough. They’re all skilled at that type of work. And so thinking about the seaweeds, kind of like mint of the sea, they’re all very skilled at similar types of work. Maybe one is a little better than the other, but like they’re all good at it.

Ryn (00:57:58):
Yeah. Cooling, moistening, relaxant, nutritive, demulcent, restorative, vulnerary, antiseptic, right?

Katja (00:58:06):

Ryn (00:58:08):

Katja (00:58:08):
Inflammation regulatory. That’s my new phrase.

Ryn (00:58:11):
That’s better. Yeah. So I do encourage you to experiment with individual sea algae, sea vegetable seaweeds. And taste them and experiment with them and put them on to you. And find the ones that do the particular job you need the best, you know, for your body, for your needs. Or that just appeal to you the most.

Katja (00:58:33):
Right. They have different flavors. If you’re new to seaweed and you’re a little nervous about it, then starting with dulse could be a really good idea. Because it does have a lighter flavor.

Ryn (00:58:45):
Yeah it’s a little milder. Definitely has that umami, savory quality to it going on.

Katja (00:58:52):
But less overt fishiness to it. Fishiness isn’t quite accurate. But less ocean flavor, more umami flavor.

Ryn (00:59:06):
Yeah, but you know, try out a small amount of a variety of different seaweeds. See what you think about it. See how you feel about it and yeah, explore that. But again the seaweeds have so much in common that you don’t have to be like oh I read this great, exciting thing about nori. And that means that I need to have that one, otherwise it’s not going to work.

Katja (00:59:32):
Right. And especially because nori actually is kind of more delicate environmentally. It doesn’t grow quite as abundantly as a lot of the other seaweeds. And so honestly you can swap in kelp. You can swap in digitata. You can swap in any of the ones that you come across. But sort of kelp is one that grows really prolifically. So, it’s fine to make that substitution.

Ryn (01:00:01):
Yeah. Cool. So give that a shot, check that out. If you have any seaweed questions or other kind of herbal thoughts and questions, then we may have some answers for you. So check out our online courses. You can find all of them at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And by the way, if you sign up for any of our online courses, that does come with access to our twice weekly live Q and A sessions. So, you can bring your seaweed questions straight to us.

Katja (01:00:30):
And we’ll answer them right there on the spot.

Ryn (01:00:32):
Yeah. So we hope to see you there. For now we’re going to say goodbye. And we’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (01:00:46):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (01:00:48):
And consume or expose yourself with some seaweed. To some seaweeds.

Katja (01:00:58):
To some seaweeds.

Ryn (01:00:58):
Yeah, there we go. All right, we’ll see you later.

Katja (01:00:59):


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