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