When you think of Ireland, the first things that come to mind may be potatoes, leprechauns, shamrocks, and the Blarney Stone. Well now you should add Irish moss to the list, as this plant has been harvested and honored by the inhabitants for centuries—but not just in Ireland! Let's discover why Irish moss is so loved.
What is Irish moss?
First of all, Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) isn't a moss at all; it's actually seaweed or red algae that grows in cool waters along the European, North American, and Jamaican coastlines. You may know Irish moss (also referred to as sea moss) as carrageen (from the Irish carraigin, which means "little rock"), although to be more precise, carrageen is derived from Irish moss.
For centuries, people in areas where the algae are plentiful have harvested it as a remedy for different conditions, including respiratory problems. Today it is touted as a superfood, sharing the spotlight with blueberries, kale, broccoli, green tea, and salmon, among others.
Health benefits of Irish moss
Over its centuries-old history, people have claimed Irish moss can treat cough, low sex drive, and infections, to name a few. More recently, there has been some research into the health benefits of this seaweed, and the studies have largely been limited to animals.
However, if you look at the nutrient content of Irish moss, you'll find abundant amounts of vitamins A, E, and K, as well as calcium, iodine, potassium, and sulfur, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are associated with a wide range of health benefits.
The potassium chloride in Irish moss, for example, is revered for its ability to relieve congestion and fight bacteria and viruses. If you have dry skin, potassium may relieve a variety of problems ranging from eczema to psoriasis. In fact, the algae also have citrulline and arginine which can help with the production of collagen.
Here are a few other health benefits you may reap from using Irish moss.
- Good for bones. Irish moss contains components that help support and maintain bone health, such as vitamin K, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium.
- Brain booster. The minerals potassium and magnesium are critical for optimal brain function. They also can help improve mood.
- Immune help. Who doesn't need a boost for their immune system? Irish moss contains antioxidants, including vitamin C, and natural antimicrobial factors that may support your immune function.
- Energy lift. If you're looking for an energy boost, vitamins B2 and B9 in Irish moss can help with that order.
- Thyroid function. The iodine in Irish moss is necessary for making hormones that are used to help regulate the thyroid. Be careful, however, because consuming too much iodine can disrupt thyroid function.
- Digestion assistance. Because the algae have a mucilaginous quality, proponents say it may help with digestion. In a Canadian study, researchers found evidence of prebiotic qualities in Irish moss when given to rats.
Is Irish moss safe?
It's important to distinguish between Irish moss and carrageen/carrageenan when talking about safety. According to Andrew Weil, MD, animal studies have indicated that food-grade carrageenan is associated with malignancies and stomach problems, while degraded carrageenan (a form not added to food) can cause cancer and ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract.
Another physician, Joanne K. Tobacman, author of several peer-reviewed studies of carrageenan, reports that the amounts found in processed foods can cause inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and other serious conditions. Yet other animal research noted that consuming carrageenan can result in inflammatory bowel disease and ulcers.
How to use Irish moss
The dietary supplement Irish moss is available as a powder, dried, pills, and liquid. Be sure to look for pure, unprocessed Irish moss that is free of contamination with heavy metals. Use as directed on the label or consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider before you use Irish moss. You can use Irish moss in smoothies or puddings or to help thicken sauces, but it's also a great additive in body lotions.
In fact, here are two simple recipes you can try for your body—inside and out!
Irish moss body lotion
This algae is sometimes an ingredient in beauty products, including body lotions. Here's an easy recipe you can try at home.
- 1 tablespoon powdered Irish moss
- 1 cup distilled water
- ¼ cup aloe vera gel
- 2 tablespoons jojoba or coconut oil
Soak the Irish moss in the water for 20 minutes. Add the mixture to a saucepan and boil for 20 minutes. Strain off the algae, and what remains should be a clear jelly. In a bowl, combine ¼ of the algae jelly with the aloe vera gel. Mix well and allow the mixture to cool. Pour the cooled mixture into a blender and pulse on low as you slowly add the oil. The result should be a white lotion. Store the lotion in a glass container.
Irish moss beverage
- 1/3 cup Irish moss
- 2-3 cups warm water
- 2 Tb flaxseed
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ¼ cup agave nectar or maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
Rinse the Irish moss until you remove any grit. Place the moss and flaxseed in a large bowl with the warm water. Soak overnight. Drain off any excess water and place the moss into a blender. Puree into a paste. Place the paste in the refrigerator. Add 4 tablespoons of the sea moss paste to the coconut milk, vanilla, sweetener, and cinnamon and blend on high. Enjoy!
Irish moss is a novel supplement with a long history that may boost your nutrition as well as offer some health benefits.
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