Chrondus crispus AKA Irish Moss
Also False Caragheen – Mastocarpus stellatus which has the same uses and grows in similar habitats
Habitat: Common around the UK, on rocks and in rockpools on mid and lower rocky shores, often hidden beneath larger seaweeds.
Identification: Small, bushy, fan-shaped seaweed with flat fronds of 7 – 15cm. Feels tough to the touch. While carrageen is scientifically a red seaweed, colour can vary to the naked eye from cream through pink and dark purple to chocolaty brown – which is how it normally looks when I pick it. False Caragheen (Mastocarpus stellatus) varies in that it tends to have pointed ends to its fronds and develops a warty texture.
Edible Uses: Caragheen is not a seaweed to eat in the conventional sense – its far too tough, even when cooked. But once heated in water it exudes a gelatinous flavourless substance that can be used to thicken soups and stews, or in higher concentrations, set jellies or panna cottas. It also can be boiled with other flavourings to make a rich, nourishing tea. Doing this with, say spruce tips, chaga or elderberries, makes for a very healthy, restorative cuppa that will help keep colds at bay. Add to soups and broths to thicken then remove before eating.
Harvest: Best from early spring to early summer, also later in the year. Cut don’t pull!