Sea Plants And Sea Weeds

Of marine plants commonly found, the Samphire and the Sea Holly

have certain domestic and medicinal uses which give them

a position as Simples; and of the more ordinary Sea Weeds

(cryptogamous, or flowerless plants) some few are edible, though

sparingly nutritious, whilst curative and medicinal virtues are

attributed to several others, as Irish Moss, Scotch Dulse, Sea Tang,

and the [497] Bladderwrack. It may be stated
roadly that the Sea

Weeds employed as remedial Simples owe their powers to the

bromine, iodine, and sulphate of soda which they contain. Pliny and

Dioscorides in their days extolled the qualities of various Sea

Weeds; and practitioners of medicine on our sea coasts are now

unanimous in pronouncing Sea Weed liniments, and poultices, as of

undoubted value in reducing glandular swellings, and in curing

obstinate sprains; whilst they administer the Bladderwrack, etc.,

internally for alterative purposes with no little success. Bits of Sea

Weed, called Ladies' trees, are still to be seen as chimney ornaments

in many a Cornish cottage, being fixed on small stands, and

supposed to protect the dwelling from fire, or other mishaps.

Samphire, of the true sort, is a herb difficult to be gathered, because

it grows only out of the crevices of lofty perpendicular rocks which

cannot be easily scaled. This genuine Samphire (Crithmum

maritimum) is a small plant, bearing yellow flowers in circular

umbels on the tops of the stalks, which flowers are followed by

seeds like those of the Fennel, but larger.

The leaves are juicy, with a warm aromatic taste, and may be put

into sauce; or they make a good appetising condimentary pickle,

which is wholesome for scrofulous subjects. Persons living by the

coast cook this plant as a pot herb. Formerly, it was regularly cried

in the London streets, and was then called Crest Marine.

Shakespeare alludes in well-known lines to the hazardous

proceedings of the Samphire gatherer's dreadful trade:--

How fearful

And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!

The crows and choughs that wing the midway air

Show scarce so gross as beetles: half-way down

Hangs one that gathers Samphire: dreadful trade!

Methinks he seems to bigger than his head.--King Lear.

[498] And Evelyn has praised the plant for excellence of flavour, as

well as for aromatic virtues against the spleen. Pliny says Samphire

is the very herb that the good country wife Hecate prepared for

Theseus when going against the Bull of Marathon.

Its botanic name is from the Greek crithe, barley, because the

seeds are thought to resemble that grain. The title Samphire is

derived from the French Herbe de St. Pierre, because the roots

strike deep in the crevices of rocks. St. Peter's Wort has become

corrupted to Sampetre, Sampier, and Samphire.

A spurious Samphire, the Inula crithmoides, or Golden Samphire,

is often supplied in lieu of the real plant, though it has a different

flavour, and few of the proper virtues. This grows more abundantly

on low rocks, and on ground washed by salt water. Also a Salicornia,

or jointed Glasswort, or Saltwort, or Crabgrass, is sold as

Samphire for a pickle, in the Italian oil shops.

Gerard says of Samphire: It is the pleasantest sauce, most familiar,

and best agreeing with man's body. Preferable, adds Evelyn, for

cleansing the passages, and sharpening appetite, to most of our

hotter herbs, and salad ingredients.

The Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), or Sea Hulver, is a

well-known prickly sea-green plant, growing in the sand on many parts

of our coasts, or on stony ground, with stiff leaves, and roots which

run to a great length among the sand, whilst charged with a sweetish


A manufactory for making candied roots of the Sea Holly was

established at Colchester, by Robert Burton, an apothecary, in the

seventeenth century, as they were considered both antiscorbutic, and

excellent for health.

[499] Gerard says: The roots, if eaten, are good for those that be

liver sick; and they ease cramps, convulsions, and the falling

sickness. If condited, or preserved with sugar, they are exceeding

good to be given to old and aged people that are consumed and

withered with age, and which want natural moisture. He goes on to

give an elaborate receipt how to condite the roots of Sea Holly, or

Eringos (which title is, according to Liddell and Scott, the

diminutive of eerungos, the beard of a goat. Or, Eryngo has

been derived from the Greek eruggarein, to eructate, because the

plant is, according to herbalists, a specific against belching). With

healthy provers, who have taken the Sea Holly experimentally in

toxical doses of varying strength the sexual energies and instincts

became always depressed. This accounts for the fact that during the

Elizabethan era, the roots of the plant used in moderation were

highly valued for renovating masculine vigour, such as Falstaff

invoked, and which classic writers have extolled:--

Non male turn graiis florens eryngus in hortis

Quaeritur; hunc gremio portet si nupta virentem

Nunquam inconcessos conjux meditabitur ignes.


These Eryngo roots, prepared with sugar, were then called Kissing

Comfits. Lord Bacon when recommending the yolks of eggs for

giving strength if taken with Malmsey, or sweet wine, says: You

shall doe well to put in some few slices of Eringium roots, and a

little Ambergrice: for by this means, besides the immediate facultie

of nourishment, such drinke will strengthen the back.

Plutarch writes: They report of the Sea Holly, if one goat taketh it

into her mouth, it causeth her first to stand still, and afterwards the

whole flock, until such [500] time as the shepherd takes it from her.

Boerhaave thought the root a principal aperient.

Irish Moss, or Carraigeen, is abundant on our rocky coasts, and is

collected on the north western shores of Ireland, while some of it

comes to us from Hamburg. Its chief constituent is a kind of

mucilage, which dissolves to a stiff paste in boiling water, this

containing some iodine, and much sulphur. But before being boiled

in water or milk, the Moss should be soaked for an hour or more in

cold water. Officinally, a decoction is ordered to be made with an

ounce of the Moss to a pint of water: of which from one to four fluid

ounces may be taken for a dose.

This Lichen contains starchy, heat-giving nourishment, about six

parts of the same to one of flesh-forming food; therefore its jelly is

found to be specially sustaining to persons suffering from

pulmonary consumption, with an excessive waste of the bodily heat.

At one time the Irish Moss fetched as high a price as half-a-crown

for the pound. It bears the botanical name of Chondrus crispus,

and varies much in size and colour. When growing in small pools, it

is shallow, pale, and stunted; whilst when found at the bottom of a

deep pool, or in the shadow of a great rock, it occurs in dense

masses of rich ruddy purple, with reddish green thick fronds.

Iceland Moss contains the form of starch called lichenin. It is a

British lichen found especially in Wales and Scotland. Most

probably the Icelanders were the first to learn its helpful properties.

In two kinds of pulmonary consumption this lichen best promotes a

cure-that with active bleeding from the lungs, and that with profuse

purulent expectoration. The Icelanders boil the Moss in broth, or dry

it in cakes used as bread. They likewise make gruel of it mixed

[501] with milk: but the first decoction of it in water, being

purgative, is always thrown away. An ounce of the Iceland Moss

boiled for a quarter-of-an-hour in a pint of milk, or water, will yield

seven ounces of thick mucilage. This has been found particularly

useful in dysentery. Also contained in the Moss are cetrarin,

uncrystallizable sugar, gum, and green wax; with potash, and

phosphate of lime. It affords help in diabetes, and for general

atrophy; being given also in powder, or syrup, or mixed with

chocolate. Francatelli directs for making Iceland Moss Jelly. Boil

four ounces of the Moss in one quart of water: then add the juice of

two lemons, and a bit of the rind, with four ounces of sugar (and

perhaps a gill of sherry?). Boil up and remove the scum from the

surface. Strain the jelly through a muslin bag into a basin, and set it

aside to become cold. It may be eaten thus, but it is more efficacious

when taken warm. A Sea-Moss, the Lichen marinum, is a singular

remedy to strengthen the weakness of the back. It is called


In New England the generic term Moss is a cant word signifying

money: perhaps as a contraction of Mopuses, or as a play on the

proverb, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

The Dulse is used in Scotland and Ireland both as food and

medicine. Botanically it bears the name of Iridea edulis, or

Rhodymenia palmata (the sugar Fucus of Iceland).

There is a saying in Scotland: He who eats of the Dulse of Guerdie,

and drinks of the wells Kindingie, will escape all maladies except

black death. This marine weed contains within its cellular structure

much iodine, which makes it a specific remedy for scrofulous

glandular enlargements, or morbid deposits.

[502] In Ireland the Dulse is first well washed in fresh water, and

exposed in the air to dry, when it gives out a white powdery

substance, which is sweet and palatable, covering the whole plant.

The weed is presently packed in cases, and protected from the air, so

that being thus preserved, it may either be eaten as it is, or boiled

in milk, and mixed with flour of rye. The powdery substance is

mannite, which is abundant likewise on many of our Sea Weeds.

Cattle and sheep are very fond of Dulse, for which reason in

Norway it is known as Soudsell, or Sheep's Weed. This Iridea

edulis is pinched with hot irons by the fishermen in the south west

of England, So as to make it taste like an oyster. In Scotland it is

roasted in the frying-pan.

The Maritime Sea Tang (Laminaria digitata) was belauded in the

Proverbial Philosophy of Martin Tupper:--

Health is in the freshness of its savour; and it cumbereth the

beach with wealth;

Comforting the tossings of pain with its violet tinctured Essence.

Tang signifies Anglo-Saxon thatch, from Sea Weed having been

formerly used instead of straw to cover the roofs of houses. When

bruised and applied by way of a poultice to scrofulous swellings and

glandular tumours, the Sea Tang has been found very valuable. The

famous John Hunter was accustomed to employ a poultice of sea-water

and oatmeal.

This weed is of common marine growth, consisting of a wide

smooth-brown frond, with a thick round stem, and broad brown

ribbons like a flag at the end of it. It is familiarly known as

Seagirdles, Tangle, Sea Staff, Sea Wand, and Cows' Tails. Fisher

boys cut up the stems as handles for knives, or hooks, because, after

the haft of [503] the blade is inserted within the stem, this dries,

and contracts on the iron staple, becoming densely hard and firm.

The absorbent stem power of the Laminaria for taking up iodine

is very large; and this element is afterwards brought out by fire in

the kelp kilns of Ireland and Scotland. Sea Tang acts most

beneficially against the various forms of scrofulous disease; and

signally relieves some rheumatic affections. It is also used largely

in the making of glass.

Likewise for scrofula, seawater, being rich in chlorides and iodides,

has proved both curative and preventive. Dr. Sena, of Valencia,

gave bread made with sea-water in the Misericordia Hospital for

cases of scrofulous disease, and other states of defective nutrition,

with singular success.

Another Laminaria (Saccharina), with a single olive yellow

semi-transparent frond, yields an abundance of sweet mannit when

boiled and evaporated.

The Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), Kelpware, or Our Lady's

Wrack, is found on most of our sea coasts in heavy brown masses of

coarse-looking Sea Weed, which cover, and shelter many small

algae. Kelp is an impure carbonate of soda containing sulphate, and

chloride of sodium, with a little charcoal.

By its characteristic bladders, or vesicles studded about the blades

of the branched narrowish fronds, this Sea Weed may be easily


These bladders are full of a glutinous substance, which makes the

weed valuable both as a remedy for the glandular troubles of

scrofula, and, when bottled in rum, as an embrocation, such as is

specially useful for strengthening the limbs of rickety, or

bandy-legged children. Against glandular swellings also the weed is

[504] taken internally as a medicine, when burnt to a black powder.

An analysis of the Bladderwrack has shown it to contain an

empyreumatic oil, sulphur, earthy salts, some iron, and iodine

freely. Thus it is very rich in anti-scrofulous elements.

The fluid extract of this Sea Weed has the long standing reputation

of safely diminishing an excess of personal fat. It is given for such

a purpose three times a day, shortly after meals, in doses of

from one to four teaspoonfuls. The remedy should be continued

perseveringly, whilst cutting down the supplies of fat, starchy foods,

sugar, and malt liquors. When thus taken (as likewise in the

concentrated form of a pill, if preferred) the Bladderwrack will

especially relieve rheumatic pains; and the sea pod liniment

dispensed by many druggists at our chief marine health resorts,

proves signally efficacious towards the same end. Furthermore, they

prepare a sea-pod essence for applying on a wet compress beneath

waterproof tissue to strumous tumours, goitre, and bronchocele; also

for old strains and bruises.

This Sea Weed should not be obtained when too fully matured, as it

quickly undergoes decomposition.

Wrack is Sea Weed thrown ashore, from Vrage, to reject. Wrack

Grass (Zostera Marina), is a marine plant with long grass-like


There are four common Fuci on our coasts--the Nodosus (Knobbed

Wrack), the Vesiculosus (Bladder Wrack), the Serratus

(Saw-edged Sea Weed), and the Caniculatus (Channeled Sea Weed).

It is by reason of its contained bromine and iodine as safe medicinal

elements, the Fucus vesiculosus acts in reducing fatness; these

elements stimulating all the absorbent glands of the body to

increased activity. [505] In common with the other Fuci it furnishes

mannite, an odorous oil, a bitter principle, mucilage, and ash, this

last constituent abounding in the bromine and iodine.

For internal use, a decoction may be made with from two to four

drachms of the weed to a pint of water, boiled together for a few

minutes; and for external application to enlarged or hardened

glands, the bruised weed may be applied as a cold poultice.

This Bladder Wrack is reputed to be the Anti-polyscarcique

nostrum of Count Mattaei.

Although diminishing fat it does no harm by inducing any atrophied

wasting of the breast glands, or of the testicles.

The Bladderwrack yields a rich produce to the seaside agriculturist

highly useful as manure for the potato field and for other crops: and

it is gathered for this purpose all along the British coast. In Jersey

and Guernsey it is called vraic. Among the Hebrides, cheeses,

whilst drying, are covered with the ashes of this weed which

abounds in salt. Patients who have previously suffered much from

rheumatism about the body and limbs have found themselves

entirely free from any such pains or trouble whilst taking the extract

of Fucus Vesiculosus (Bladderwrack). This Sea Weed is in

perfection only during early and middle summer. For fresh sprains

and bruises a hot decoction of the Bladderwrack should be used at

first as a fomentation; and, afterwards, a cold essence of the weed

should be rubbed in, or applied on wet lint beneath light thin

waterproof tissue, or oiled silk, as a compress: this to be changed as

often as hot or dry.

Laver is the popular name given to some edible Sea Weeds--the

Porphyra lanciniata, and the Ulva latissima. The same title was

formerly bestowed by Pliny on an [506] aquatic plant now

unknown, and called also Sloke, or Sloken.

Porphyra, from a Greek word meaning purple, is the true Laver,

or Sloke. It is slimy, or semi-gelatinous of consistence when served

at table, having been stewed for several hours until quite tender, and

then being eaten with butter, vinegar, and pepper. At the London

Reform Club Laver is provided every day in a silver saucepan at

dinner, garnished with lemons, to flank the roast leg of mutton.

Others prefer it cooked with leeks and onions, or pickled, and eaten

with oil and lemon juice. The Englishman calls this Sea Weed,

Laver; the Irishman, Sloke; the Scotchman, Slack; and the student,

Porphyra. It varies in size and colour between tidemarks, being

sometimes long and ribbon-like, of a violet or purple hue;

sometimes long and broad, whilst changing to a reddish purple, or


It is very wholesome, and preventive of scurvy, being therefore

valuable on sea voyages, as it will keep good for a long time in

closed tin vessels.

The Ulva latissima is a deep-green Sea Weed, called by the

fishermen Oyster Green, because employed to cover over oysters.

This is likewise known as Laver, because sometimes substituted by

epicures for the true Laver (Porphyra) when the latter cannot be

got; but it is not by any means as good. The name Ulva is from

ul, meaning water.

Sea Spinach (Satsolacea--Spirolobea) is a Saltwort found growing

on the shore in Hampshire and other parts of England, the best of all

wild vegetables for the table, having succulent leaves shaped like

worms, and being esteemed as an excellent antiscorbutic.

The Sea Beet--a Chenopod--which grows plentifully on our shores,

gave origin to the cultivated Beetroot of [507] our gardens. Its name

was derived from a fancied resemblance borne by its seed vessels

when swollen with seed to the Greek letter B (beta).

Nomine cum Graio cui litera proxima primoe

Pangitur in cera doeti mucrone magistri.

The Greeks gave its name to the Beet from their alphabet's

second letter,

As an Attic teacher wrote it on wax with a sharp stiletto.

By the Grecians the Beet was offered on silver to Apollo in his

temple at Delphi. A pleasant wine may be made from its roots, and

its juice when applied with a brush is an excellent cosmetic. The

Mangel Wurzel, also a variety of Beet, means literally, scarcity


Another Sea Weed, the Bladderlocks (Alaria esculenta),

henware, honeyware, murlins, is edible, the thick rib which

runs through the frond being the part chosen. This abounds on the

Northern coasts of England and Scotland, being of a clear olive

yellow colour, with a stem as thick as a small goosequill, varying in

length, with its fronds, from three to twenty feet. The fruit appears

as if partially covered with a brown crust consisting of transparent

spore cases set on a stalk in a cruciform manner.

Common Coraline (Corallina Anglica), a Sea Weed of a whitish

colour, tinged with purple and green, and of a firm substance, is

famous for curing Worms.

The presence of gold in sea water, even as surrounding our own

islands, has been sufficiently proved; though, as yet, its extraction

is a costly and uncertain process. One analyst has estimated that the

amount of gold contained in the oceans of the globe must be ten

million tons, without counting the possible quantity locked up in

floating icebergs about the Poles.

Professor Liveredge, of the Sydney University, [508] examined sea

water collected off the Australian coast, as also some from Northern

shores, and obtained gold, from five-tenths to eight-tenths of a grain

per ton of the sea water. It occurs as the chloride, and the bromide of

gold; which salts, as recently shown by Dr. Compton Burnett, when

administered in doses almost infinitesimally small, are of supreme

value for the cure of epilepsy, secondary syphilis, sexual debility,

and some disorders of the heart.

Dr. Russell wrote on the uses of sea water in diseases of the glands.

He found the soapy mucus within the vesicles of the Bladderwrack

an excellent resolvent, and most useful in dispersing scrofulous

swellings. He advises rubbing the tumour with these vesicles

bruised in the hand, and afterwards washing the part with sea water.