Micah Woodcock, 29, spends eight months a year living in a simple cabin on an island off Stonington in Penobscot Bay and paying close attention to the tides.
And when the tide is low, the owner of the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company gets to work, often donning a wetsuit before he heads out to offshore ledges in search of the kombu, wakame, dulse, Irish Moss, bladderwrack and other types of edible seaweed he harvests to make a living.
“When you say seaweed harvesting, a dozen different things can pop into people’s minds. Some people think of somebody with a five-gallon bucket, daintily walking the shoreline,” Woodcock said. “As far as my work goes, I’m out at low tide in a wetsuit on exposed ledges whether it’s 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, and at the height of the season you’re working 12, 14, 16 hour days.”
And he loves it. Woodcock, who will be teaching a seaweed cooking class Saturday at Halcyon Grange No. 345 in Blue Hill, has a passion for harvesting, cooking and spreading the word about seaweed. But he wasn’t always a big fan.
“I didn’t really love eating seaweed very much at all. I didn’t grow up eating seaweed more than most people in Maine,” he said.
That changed eight years ago, when he followed his interests in food and cooking to an apprenticeship with longtime Washington County seaweed harvester Larch Hanson. That’s when Woodcock really began learning about seaweed, the common name for countless species of marine plants and algae that grow in the oceans as well as rivers, lakes and other water bodies. They range in size from the microscopic, such as phytoplankton, to the enormous, such as giant kelp.
And seaweed has lots of uses. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seaweed is full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, and many species also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agents. The ancient Romans used medicinal seaweed to treat wounds, burns and rashes, and anecdotal evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians may have used them as a treatment for breast cancer. Additionally, seaweed is used in the manufacturing of products including toothpaste, ice cream, cosmetics and skin-care products.
But the seaweed species that interest Woodcock the most are the edible ones. Around the world, many maritime cultures have incorporated seaweed into their cuisine, with the best known likely Japan, where it is used in soups, salads, sushi and more. Even in Maine, Woodcock has come across lots of old-timers who use the seaweed Irish Moss as a thickening agent for foods like puddings.
“They grew up eating it,” he said.
Woodcock wants to encourage more Mainers to continue to cook with Irish Moss, and also to tell people about the other types of edible seaweed. He goes offshore to hunt for seaweed that grows in the subtidal zone, where the more tender and tasty species are found. Sometimes he dives to collect seaweed, other times he jumps out of the boat and prowls around the slippery rock ledges. He dries what he finds and then sells it through his company, which is named for the the root-like structure that seaweed uses to attach itself to the rocks.
At the cooking class, he will show attendees how to make at least five different dishes using seaweed, including a seaweed salad with Alaria, roasted kelp chips, seaweed broth, kelp noodles and sweet pudding. He always enjoys showing others how to cook with the seaweed that grows just off the Maine coast.
“One of the motivating factors for me is being able to contribute a highly nutritious and sustainable product to the regional food economy, and educating people about this under-appreciated resource,” Woodcock said. “[And] I like the work.”
Micah Woodcock’s free seaweed workshop will be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Halcyon Grange No. 345 at 1157 Pleasant Street in Blue Hill.
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