Send Me to Seaweed Camp!

A path through a cave brings the group to a secret cove where tide pools sparkle with mother-of-pearl. Note that dogs are allowed if on leash.

Story and photos by Jillian Laurel Steinberger-Foster


Do you like your foods super fresh and your outdoor experience rugged with plenty of nature connection, exercise, cool science, and brisk ocean air? Then you might enjoy a weekend of seaweed foraging on the Mendocino Coast with clinical herbalist, nutrition consultant, gardener, permaculturalist, ethnobotanist, licensed commercial kelp harvester, and longtime Berkeleyite Tanya Stiller.

On a weekend in early May, I joined a group that followed her around different beaches near the town of Mendocino. At the harvesting grounds, she demonstrated how to safely and ethically harvest seaweeds like nori, wakame, sea palm, and others, as she shared top-line information about the biology and ecology of seaweeds. I was surprised to learn that seaweeds are not plants at all, but rather, they are macrophytic marine algae. I also learned that harvesting seaweed is much like pruning plants: You need to know what you’re doing before hacking them!


We harvested a big catch of the invasive purple sea urchin that is decimating kelp beds along the California Coast.


Besides collecting edible macrophytic marine algae, we harvested purple sea urchins, the shellfish that Japanese speakers call uni. These sea beasts are voraciously devouring California’s kelp beds and decimating the abalone population that depends on the kelp for food, so eating purple urchin is an act of environmental restoration. How’s that for closing the loop?

After harvesting the uni, we returned to camp and ate them— fresh, live, and raw—as a rich, buttery snack. That night Stiller made a fettuccine-like dish using sea palm for pasta and tossing it with a delicious cilantro–pumpkin seed pesto (see recipe below). We also had a cooking demonstration by Ayako Nagano, Stiller’s friend, fellow seaweed aficionado, business coach, assistant, and a board member for Healing Tide, the nonprofit that runs these trips. Nagano, who carries forward traditions from her Japanese mother and grandmother, brought along a box of dried seaweeds she had harvested previously to use in cooking. Her sea palm broth with shiitake mushrooms was simple yet delicious, and a welcome warming bowl after a chilly day on the seashore. ♦


Ayako Nagano demonstrated how to prepare purple sea urchin. The part you eat is the gonads (often incorrectly referred to as roe). To get at them, it’s good to work over a bucket of water. Carefully cut around the urchin’s mouth, pull off this portion of the shell, and gently pry out the gonads with a spoon.


For more information on the Mendocino tours, visit Stiller also leads two-hour foraging workshops at the Berkeley Marina via Airbnb Experiences. 

With a thirst for adventure and the outdoors, Jillian Laurel Steinberger-Foster is a regenerative landscape designer and businesswoman who is HBIC of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping in Santa Cruz.




Sea Palm Fettuccine with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

From Tanya Stiller’s newsletter: “Seaweeds: A Forager’s Guide to the West Coast’s Wild Sea Vegetables.”

When soaked in water, sea palm fronds expand from thin, crunchy sticks to long, flat bands—like fettuccine—that you can dress up with your favorite sauce, like this tangy pumpkin seed pesto. If you don’t have the opportunity to forage your own, look for dried, packaged seaweeds at your local market.

Serves 4

  • 2 ounces sea palm fronds
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2½ cups water
  • 3 cups vegetables*
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Pumpkin Seed Pesto (recipe follows)
  • Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Soak the sea palm fronds in a large bowl of water for 20 minutes to rehydrate, and make the Pumpkin Seed Pesto while you wait.

Toast the pine nuts in a medium-hot skillet for 3-4 minutes and set aside. Also roast or sauté any vegetables you want to add. *Roasted cauliflower florets contrast nicely against the dark seaweed, or try sautéed zucchini, oyster mushrooms (cut in chiffonade), julienned carrots, or any combination you might like.

Heat the olive oil or ghee in a saucepan as you drain the rehydrated sea palm. Sauté the fronds with the chopped garlic for 3 minutes. Add water and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

When the sea palm fronds are tender, drain and toss with the prepared vegetables. Stir in the toasted pine nuts along with lemon juice and salt to taste. Top with a dollop of pesto and garnish of cilantro sprigs.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Makes about 1¼ cups

  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or flax oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Sea salt to taste

Heat a skillet on medium high and toast pumpkin seeds until they puff up, about 1-2 minutes. Blend in a blender or food processor along with remaining pesto ingredients until smooth. Add salt to taste.