Thalassotherapy, from the Greek word “thalassa”, meaning “sea”, involves the medical use of beneficial aspects of the marine biosystem, including seaweeds, mud, sand, and sea water. Long used by Mediterranean peoples, thalassotherapy has been enjoying more global attention in recent years, and indeed, seaweed wraps, dead sea clay masks and scrubs, and sea mineral soaks have been popping up in spas everywhere. Many Americans are a little more leary of actually eating seaweed, though its nutritional benefits are tremendous. It’s well worth acclimating oneself to the taste and texture of seaweed, which is actually quite subtle and lovely, especially when made in ways traditional to Mediterranean or Asian cultures who have long experimented with in local cusine.
Nutritionally, seaweeds are an exceptional source of bioavailable, essential minerals necessary for proper functioning and optimum health. It is well understood that the peoples who consume high rates of seaweeds, such as the Japanese, have high amounts of seaweed in their diet. Indeed, I have heard more than once that Japan’s great health secret is not soy, increasingly found as a controversial food that actually blocks the update of vital minerals, but rather, seaweeds. Gail Faith Edwards, in her lovely Herb Quarterly article, “Seaweed: Herb of the Ocean,” writes that Kelp (brown algae; Luminariales family) contains the broadest range of minerals of any food: “the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.” (Edwards, 2007:29) Luminaria longicruris is one variety of kelp to be found on the NE coast; it has lovely long golden fronds and exceedingly high levels of these minerals, as well as being an unparalleled source of other essential trace nutrients, including iodine. Kelp apparently has a normalizing effect on the thyroid and parathyroid, which help the body absorb all of these minerals, and this leads to a reduction in the risk of hypertension and high blood pressure (Edwards, 2007:29). Other research suggests that kelp destroys cancer cells and stimulates immune function, as well as an intriguing finding that kelp even has the ability to bind with radioactive isotypes in the body, alllowing them to be safely excreted. This leads one to believe that consuming kelp during radiation treatment may protect you from some of the nasty side effects many fighting cancer endure. Indeed, herbalist Susun Weed writes about kelp’s protective, anti-cancer, anti-radiation, anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-toxic, anti-rheumatic, antibiotic, antibacterial, and alterative properties in her well-known book, Healing Wise (Weed, 1989:222).
Dulse (Palmaria palmate) is a deep, red algae with a very high protein content of more than 22% of the daily recommended allowance. Dulse is a better source of protein than chick peas (gram), almonds, or whole sesame seeds, and is also high in iron, potassium, fiber, and vitamins B6 & B12. I often use dulse flakes sprinkled liberally over my rice, vegetable stir fries, or other savory dishes. You don’t need to use much to gain tremendous nutritional benefit. You can rinse it a bit to tenderize it before adding it to salads and other foods where the steam of cooking won’t soften it a bit. But otherwise, no cooking necessary for this useful supplement. It is interesting to note that adding seaweed to cooking beans actually helsp tenderize the beans, shortening cooking time and aiding in their digestion.
Worried about the salts in seaweed? Unlike sodium chloride (table salt), which is made up of sugar, aluminum salts, and several other agents along with sodium chloride and may cause cardiac stress, sodium itself is not to blame for high blood pressure. The naturally-occurring sodium in seaweeds relieves tension in blood vessels. Real, evaporated sea salt is pinkish in color, so be sure you know what you are using! (Weed 1989:225). Seaweed is a heart-healthy food that can help correct cardiac problems (Kosuge, et al 1983: 683-685).
Finally, seaweed appears to be a wonderful endocrine regulator, providing optimum nourishment for hormonal, lymphatic, urinary, and nervous systems. In other words, you can’t go wrong by incorporating this superfood into your diet. For daily supplemental use of seaweed, try a teaspoonful (5 g) of seaweed daily, combined with other nourishing herbal infusions as needed. This is a wonderful adjunct therapy for addressing problems with thyroid malfunction, goiter, impotence, infertility, obesity, anorexia, prostate enlargement, lack of ovulation, menopausal distress, allergic reactions, and hives.
Dead Sea clay facial mask
Japanese beauty customs have long incorporated seaweed into rituals. The electorlytic magnetic action of seaweed is said to release excess body fluid from congested cells and disolves fatty waste, replacing it with depleted minerals. A regular seaweed bath may even help insure more well-balanced hormones, due to high levels of vitamin K, which helps regulate adrenal function. You can easily make your own bath tea using mineral rich dead sea salts and dried seaweed (see recipe below). Create a seaweed infusion for your hair to help remove dirt and excess oil, while nourishing hair with necessary nutrients for beautiful locks. Just add 2 -3 Tbsp of seaweed to hot water and infuse for 30 minutes before using as a hair rinse at the end of a shower or bath. I also love using dead sea clay along with seaweeds (kelp, Irish moss, and dulse) and medicinal mushrooms in a balancing, deep cleansing, and mineral rich facial mask, such as my dead sea clay facial mask, pictured above.
(Sunomono) Wakame & Cucumber Salad:
1 small cucumber
1/2 tsp salt
(.5 oz) 1 cup wakame seaweed (softened in cool water for 10-15 min & sliced)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 lb. small cooked shrimp (optional)
toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Cut softened wakame seaweed into about 2inch-long pieces. Slice cucumber into very thin rounds. Put salt over cucumber slices and set aside for 20 minutes. Squeeze cucumber slices to remove the liquid. Mix vinegar, tamari, & sesame oil in a bowl. Add wakame seaweed and cucumber slices in the bowl and mix well. Add optional cooked shrimp if desired.
Thalassotherapy Seaweed Bath Soak:
1 cup (.5 oz) dried seaweed (wakame, kelp, etc)
1 cup dead sea salts or other mineral -rich bath salt
2 Tbsp dead sea clay or other cosmetic clay
1 large muslin bag or cheesecloth
Blend the above ingredients (dry) and use it to fill a large muslin bag or fold into a square of cheesecloth and tie. Of course, you don’t have to enclose the ingredients if you don’t mind the loose blend in the tub! Fill a bath tub with warm water (not scalding) and add the seaweed bundle. Allow the seaweed & salts to infuse into the bath water and soak in the tub for thirty minutes or so.
Edwards, Gail Faith (2007) “Seaweed: Herb of the Ocean,” The Herb Quarterly. Fall 2007: 28-31.
Kosuge, T, H. Nukaya, T. Yamamoto, & K. Tsuji (1983). “isolation and Further Identification of Cardiac principles from laminaria,” Yakugaku Zasshi, 103(6), 683-685.
Madlener, Judith C. The Sea Vegetable Book. 1977. Potter Pub. (nearly 200 recipes! Look in Used Book sites)
Weed, Susun (1989). Healing Wise. Ash Tree Publishing: NY.
Sources of locally-sourced US seaweed:
Maine Coast Seaweed
Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company (including Sea Vegetable Gourmet cookbook)