Bladderwrack is a Brown seaweed from the North Atlantic that has been used medicinally for centuries. It is reported to be the first source of iodine discovered and therefore has long been associated with the treatment of thyroid disorders.
Typically, it grows profusely, forming a dense mat of ribbons fitted on either side with air filled bladders that keep the plant floating up from its rocky anchorage.
Some material I found describes bladderwrack as a type of kelp, which is not true. Both are brown seaweed – which means they have some things in common – but they are distinctly different families, which gives them each an distinctive nutritional profile.
As for many natural remedies, much of the information about medicinal properties has come from experience in utilisation by medical herbalists rather than clinical trials. More and more research is undertaken to study the effects of various compounds found exclusively in seaweed.
Generally speaking, although the main use for the herb has been the stimulation of the thyroid gland, it has also built a reputation in the relief of different forms of arthritis. More generally it is a nourishing & soothing tonic that is a great resource during convalescence, especially to re-mineralise the body. It is also said to help resolve dry skin and chronic constipation.
Three known active constituents in bladderwrack have received lots of focus:
iodine, alginic acid and fucoidan.
Iodine is a trace mineral and an essential nutrient found naturally in the body. It is needed for the normal metabolism of cells. Humans need iodine for normal thyroid function, and for the production of thyroid hormones. Click on the link to find out more about iodine and why we need it. All brown seaweed are an excellent source of iodine. The levels of iodine in bladderwrack are quite a lot lower than in kelp, another well known brown seaweed. Although iodine levels in seaweed vary to some extent with location and season, there is an approximate ten-fold difference between the well known kelp and bladderwrack (bladderwrack 400ppm, as compared to kelp 4000ppm). While one always needs to be vigilant for symptoms of overdose, iodine levels in bladderwrack are not likely to cause problems to most people; however, it must be avoided in overactive thyroid conditions and/or during pregnancy & breast feeding and is not recommended for children under 5.
Alginic acid is a polysaccharide found in brown algae that is said to help bowel function and relieve constipation & diarrhea. There is also evidence that it also relieves the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. Alginic acid has also been shown to inhibit HIV in test tube, and to lower bad cholesterol levels in animal studies.
Fucoidan is another polysaccharide and it is said to balance cholesterol & sugar levels according to animal studies. Research is being done to also confirm anti-inflammatory & anti-viral activity that is thought to prevent bacteria and viruses from binding to human cells.
Since the thyroid plays a vital role in the body’s ability to regulate weight, bladderwrack is now being used in quite a few weight-loss programs and as a treatment for cellulite and obesity. It appears to assist in the problem of lipid balance associated with obesity, and facilitates the break down of fatty build ups in the body & blood vessels. It also eliminates stored up body fluids and stimulates blood circulation.
Modern research also reveals that bladderwrack can be an alternative to soy in supporting women’s health. A study published in BMC Complementary ans Alternative medicine in 2004 reported that women who consume bladderwrack can experience normalisation of short menstrual cycles and relief from severe PMS. Bladderwrack also seems to encourage the production of progesterone when there is excess production of estrogen.
On the culinary side of things, bladderwrack is a chewy seaweed that becomes really tough when dried. It is sometimes used fresh as a ‘wrap’ for steaming fish but mostly it is available dried and used as an ingredient in condiments, to make stock and a very nutritious tea.
It may be rated by many as something that is a bit of an acquired taste but herbalist/author Susun Weed (Wise Woman Herbal HEALING WISE -The Wise Woman tradition is the way of nourishment and sustenance, rather than of “fixing” and “curing.” ) stresses the benefit of seaweed as ‘increased longevity, enhanced immune function, revitalised cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive & nervous systems and relief from minor aches & pains’.
This tea is a tonic that can be enjoyed for a few weeks at a time. The resulting beverage has a slight salty marine flavour with a hint of a smoky finish. If you worry about it being too ‘seaweedy’, the flavour can be transformed according to your taste and preferences by adding extra ingredients at steeping time – you will barely detect the marine taste. This beverage can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Place ¼ cup of dried bladderwrack in a jar or teapot and fill with boiling water (or a flat teaspoon per cup).
Let steep overnight or a few hours.
Next morning, strain, warm and enjoy.
The mixture can be seasoned to your taste by adding other ingredients: mint, lemongrass, ginger, lemon peel, cinnamon, allspice while steeping, and a bit of honey.
Bladderwrack is one of the most abundant brown seaweed. Its taste is mild and salty sweet. Try it in soups or make a healthy stock, or mix it with sea salt for a naturally iodised version.
Bladderwrack is rich in iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, silicon and iron and high in some B-complex vitamins. It contains moderate amounts of phosphorus, selenium, manganese & zinc and small amounts of Vitamins A, C, E and G. It is rich in algin and mannitol, carotene and zeaxantine with traces of bromine.