St Pierre du Bois

In this section we want to tell you about Vraic - what is it, what should we know about it and its history in our culture

Subcategories

Vraic  is a word found only in the Channel Islands and means seaweed

It is a Guernesiais word which of course derives from Norman French. The Normans were Norse Men and we find the word 'wrack' in old norse.

Wrack' is common in English names of seaweed. Interestingly the French, Italian and German words for seaweed are Algue, alga and Algen respectively. No trace of wrack there but a reminder of what the experts will all tell us first off - seaweed is not a weed it is an algae

 

Vraic gathering and use (although called many different things) has been around amongst littoral peoples across the whole world since time immemorial. References to its use began to be recorded in the 16th and 17th centuries. A Guernsey Royal Court ruling was passed in 1535, for example, regarding th ecurring of Vraic, but there is no doubt the practice had been long established before then.

The burning of Vraic produces potash which is an ingredient in gunpowder and it is said that Napoleon regularised and encouraged the practice in Brittany in the 1700's 

An Irish monk's poem from the 11th century records

"A while gathering dillisk from the rock, 
a while fishing, 
a while giving food to the poor, 
a while in a cell."

 

Humankind has used seaweeds for thousands of years. Through archaeological evidence we know that man in Monte Verde, Southern Chile has harvested, preserved seaweed for long term storage and used seaweeds for food and medicinal purposes for upwards of 20,000 years.
This fact becomes more amazing when you consider that archaeologists can only demonstrate that people of the pre-Neolithic era at around 11,500 or so years ago were storing grain on the banks of the river Jordan in silos.
Arable farming in the UK, for example, only began 5,000 years ago during the neolithic period,the earliest records denote the usage of seaweeds as fertiliser, this use stems from the high vitamin and mineral content of these algae.

This was easily observed by early farmers before the advent of the Haber-Bosh process used to fix nitrogen for the industrial production of fertiliser.

This was common parctise during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuaries where the ash of brown seaweeds or kelps was produced from burning this sea vegetable, indeed the name kelp is an archaic term that has since been retained for various brown seaweeds ranging from Acophyllum nodosum to Fucus serratus .

 

dulse1

The role of Vraic in our Islands'  history and culture cannot be overstated even though these days, with the decline in horticulture washed up Vraic is seen as more nuisance than benefit. 

This list of articles goes into ore depth on interesting facts about Vraic ranging from how it is being used in modern agriculture and medicine to what it has been used for.  Here's a taste:    

Seaweed is the oldest form of life on the planet.      
Seaweed alginates are now used as dressings for severe burns and wounds.
A pronounced moisturising effect occurs through the use of seaweed on hair.   
In ancient Polynesia, seaweed was used to treat wounds, bruises and swellings   
Certain seaweed species have been used in China in the treatment of cancer,<

Foraging for Vraic, even if you just want to 'spot'  different varieties and do not necessarily want to collect, is an absorbing pastime. Akin to 'rock pooling', and we all know how timeless and therapeutic that can be.  However, in this day and age there must be the inevitable 'SAFETY' notice 

rockpooling1

OK OK this is common sense but it is worth saying.

          1. It is inevitable that you will be foraging around below high tide (there's not much to see at high tide) SO always remember where you are and keep a track of incoming tide - It is easy to get cut off especially while you are completely absorbed. 

          2. Seaweed covered rocks are slippery something could happen  so for both this and the previous reason tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, even if you take a friend.

          3. Always know the times of high and low water. 
          4. Please note that we do not take responsibility for consequences of foraging either in the process of or the consumption of foraged material, but here are some sensible guidleines

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ALWAYS ALWAYS wash anything, you might be inclined to eat, in fresh water. Ensure you have correctly identified the item. Randomly eating seaweed is not as bad as randomly eating mushrooms but care must be taken to acquire knowledge
Cook according to a recipe.

Avoid any possible polluted areas.
There are a number of warnings on the internet NOT to microwave seaweed in preparation - this seems partly due to the fact that microwaving breaks down the cell walls making it mushy and unpalatable but there are other reports that is can alter the alkilinity levels and make some seaweed dangerous to eat. (no scientific proof found - DYOR - there's a link under 'grow with Vraic' which shows how microwave extraction concentrates some elements see here )

 

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