Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Harvesting Bullwhip Kelp

I nibble on dried seaweed often, and my sweetheart and I eat bullwhip kelp pickles. This kelp provides precious trace minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, and more. Bullwhip kelp is also high in protein and a good source of dietary fiber.

Bullwhip kelp, also called bull kelp, can be harvested in spring and summer, and sometimes there is good kelp available in the fall and winter. We like to gather it from the latter part of May through August.  It is best to go at low tide when more of the stipe is floating on the surface. Collect in areas away from sources of pollution.

Collecting kelp is easy if you have a skiff and if a bullwhip kelp bed is nearby. Bring with you a small knife and a cooler or clean plastic tote. Please don't use garbage bags for any food harvesting as they are often treated with chemicals (sometimes pesticides - yuck!) that are not food safe.

Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis lutkeana)

Bull kelp can grow in dense forests, forming huge mats of kelp on the surface. Kelp forests are rich habitats for a great variety of organisms.  

Seagulls napping in a kelp bed. 

When you collect bull kelp bulbs and stipes (stalks) you are taking the reproductive portion of this large algae. Gather with restraint. It is easy to take more than you can use. Bull kelp must be processed the day of harvest or the next day, so reserve plenty of time for the project. 

Look for clean, firm, smooth stipes. The 'leaves' or 'fronds' are called blades. They are wavy and may feel kind of rubbery. Stipes and blades that have white splotches, tattered edges, or are not smooth and pretty are too old for harvest.

Smooth, firm, clean-looking kelp. 

It can help to use a gaff hook to get ahold of the kelp, but do so gently, as the kelp can break if jerked or bent hard. Pull the kelp up until the stipe is too thin for pickles or until you feel resistance.  Never pull the kelp until it's holdfast is separated from the ocean bottom. If you cut the kelp well above the holdfast then the kelp will regenerate.

A quick cut with the knife will separate the kelp.

Cut bullwhip kelp stipes. 

In a few minutes you will have plenty of kelp for the whole family!

The stipes and bulbs make great pickles and relish. The blades are dried for snacks, and to add to soups and casseroles as seasoning. 

The blades can be dried or cooked as-is, or given a very quick freshwater rinse. They can be eaten raw or added to stir fries or other dishes. To store kelp blades, dry in a food dehydrator or hang over a clothesline if the weather is dry and warm. I use a dehydrator, drying the kelp until it crumbles easily. I break it up, put it in a canning jar, and put the lid on tightly. You could also vacuum pack it.

Bullwhip kelp pickles

Bullwhip kelp pickles

There are many ways to use bullwhip kelp - stuffed and baked, candied, dried and ground to powder, stir fried - use your imagination. 

For excellent information about the nutritional and medicinal value of seaweeds visit Ryan Drum's website. Here is the link to his article on medicinal uses of seaweeds:


The recipe for bread & butter kelp pickles that we make will be in the next post!

See you there, 

Alaska Beachcomber


More on subsistence food and medicine: