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  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:--
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.
 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.
 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  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
 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.
 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
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  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
 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.  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  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  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
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,  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.