Irish Moss Gathering ~ Prince Edward Island

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To anyone who has walked along the beaches of Canada’s Prince Edward Island after a storm, the sight of Irish Moss is very familiar.

This seaweed is found from the low tide mark to approximately 30 feet of water and is one of the seaweeds thrown up by the action of the waves.

A fascinating sight is the collecting of Irish Moss with the use of horses.

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Irish Moss is a small edible sea plant that may be greenish, reddish or purplish in color. Although small, it is sturdy and fan-shaped like broccoli and has many “branches” near the top.

It flourishes in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence where it grows around the low tide mark.

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Irish Moss can be harvested by boat, tractor, horses or by hand.

The horse-hauling method, which could be considered the old traditional means of gathering moss, is actually still quite common.

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When the weather is especially windy with heavy wave action, horses are sometimes in water up to their necks.

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Pulling the loads of moss can require 30 to 40 horses abreast. The horse mossers collect Irish moss near shore with rakes and wire-mesh scoops pulled through the  water by a moss horse.

It is, indeed, a fascinating sight to see the collecting of Irish Moss with the use of horses. Such horses are usually large and fearless.

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While a seemingly unassuming little plant, the carrageenan extracted from Irish Moss is extremely useful.  It is an emulsifier – a kind of natural gelatin and stabilizing agent.

Irish moss is an important component of many of our favorite foods and useful products. When we consume ice cream, chocolate milk, salad dressings, sherbet, flavourings, confectionery, beer or use insect sprays, water based paints, shampoos, toothpaste or cosmetics, we’re almost certain to be using carrageenan, a starch-like non caloric substance extracted from Irish moss.

These are just a few of the thousand or more products that contain carrageenan which is extracted from the Irish Moss.

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Once a small cottage industry, Irish Moss harvesting is now a lucrative commercial activity that takes place in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in early spring through until late autumn.

In some parts of the Island, Irish Moss harvesting is second only to lobster fishing and is worth approximately $1-5 million annually.

In addition, because of the use of horses for harvesting, it remains a popular tourist attraction.

~~~

Irish Moss Gathering Photographs: Courtesy of Roger Hicks

Link: Storm Photographs

 

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I learn something every time I come here! I knew seaweed went into ice cream, but repressed that thought.

    Your photos and story are really fascinating stuff. Thank you for putting this together.

    It would take a really special kind of horse to pull a contraption like that through the water. We took our horses to the beach once and they were spooked by the waves. We eventually got them in, but it wouldn’t have been pretty if we’d had anything dragging behind. Wonderful story.

  2. Wow, I’m Canadian and I have never heard of moss gathering in PEI. How fascinating. Maybe I can teach Jasper that!

  3. That was really interesting. Those horses are really disciplined to be out in the waves and water, pulling things. I was trying to imagine 30 or 40 of them abreast. It boggles the mind.

  4. What a wonderful website! Go to PEI and you’ll never want to leave, especially Prince County. Here in Vermont, horses are still used some for logging and haying, but there’s something about horses and the sea….
    You seem to have a plethora of information, do you know if there’s a pony breed from PEI called WestPrince? Thanks.

    ~~~
    Hi Robin,
    Vermont …what a beautiful place you live! And how enjoyable it would be to see horses still being used for logging and haying!

    As to your question, I hope someone will reply about the PEI “West Prince” pony. I am not familiar with it and would be very interested to know the answer.

    All the best,
    Marvel

  5. We just returned from a trip to PEI and even before going, I was fascinated w/ the stories of irish moss gathering since we own draft horses. While on PEI, I searched many stores for a print and found one but not nearly as vivid as yours shown in the above article. Plus the article was so informative. Would prints be available??~~ That would be the next best thing to actually being part of the gathering! Thanks so much.

    ~~~
    Hello Ellen,
    How lucky you are to have had a trip to PEI and, also, to own draft horses, yourself! How unfortunate that there were no prints of Irish Moss gathering available. It is such a unique event. I’m sure my friend won’t mind if you copy his photos from my site. The resolution is quite low, however.

  6. I am trying to find a source to buy Irish Moss. Can you provide me with some resources to do so – preferably Canadian.

    • Yes I know of a canadian supplier for Irish moss. http://www.rolandsdulse.com/prices.html
      located in Grand Manan, Canada

    • Hello, I own a Irish Moss plant located in Western P.E.I., I was wondering if you were still interested in buying Irish Moss, if so, e-mail me at dextershea@hotmail.com.

      Thanks!

      • I am looking for Irish moss to make home made lotion.

  7. Interesting info and beautiful photos!

  8. I am trying to find Irish moss to purchase, that is not dehydrated, could you give me any contact information. Thanks

  9. I am interested in buying PEI Irish Sea Moss. Can you tell me where I can buy it? Thank you. I am fascinated by it.

    • hello, I own a Irish Moss plant on PEI and would very much like to sell you some of our fine product, email me at dextershea@hotmail.com and we can discuss things further.

      Thanks


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