First, let’s talk about algae and seaweed. Why two different words for the same thing? The difference is quite simple. Algae is Latin for seaweed, or more correctly, Alga. All seaweeds are algae, but not all algae’s are seaweed. Algae is found everywhere – literally everywhere. It lives on land, in water, under the ice, even in you. At last count, there were some 72,500 types of algae out there, but no one can say for certain. There is no single comprehensive data base. Is it a plant or an animal? Depending on where you read about it, it is one, or the other, or both, or neither. For our purposes, we’ll keep it simple and stick to seaweed, a multicellular, macroscopic marine algae, and narrow it down further to brown, red, and green. If you want the technical stuff, go here, but don’t forget to come back: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae
What we all know as seaweed (there are thousands of different types, roughly 10,000 species) absorbs and concentrates the minerals, salts, and nutrients in ocean water. It is one of the most mineral and vitamin rich plants in the world. Each type of seaweed concentrates minerals in different amounts. Lithothamnium, a type of red algae for example, concentrates iron, calcium and magnesium. Fucus, a type of brown algae, concentrates copper. Let’s begin with brown algae, the most common type of seaweed found in temperate and Polar Regions.
Brown algae, or the Phaeophyta, includes kelp, sargassum, laminaria, and fucus, amongst others. It grows mostly in the Northern Hemisphere in depths up to about 75 feet of water. You’ve probably seen brown algae on a walk along the beach. It is recognizable by the water filled bladders attached to the body (stem, blade, or thallus). Brown algae can be small – less than an inch, to enormous – 150 feet or more. And, they can grow at an amazing rate. For some species, 20 inches a day. Larger species can grow together in “forests” or kelp forests. If you are lucky enough to have visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, there is a kelp forest on display.
They even have a webcam of the kelp forest going from 7AM to 7PM PST. It also has audio and if there are divers in the water, you will hear them communicating with visitors. The aquarium is a cool place to visit, but if you want to take a quick look, click on Kelp Cam here (It’ll take a few seconds to load). While you are there, consider a donation to help support conservation of the ocean. To learn how, look for the the link next to the Cam. Don’t forget to come back after being mesmerized.
Ocean Rescue uses a type of brown algae called laminaria. Laminaria is rich in trace elements (which we cover later), beta carotenes, iodine, potassium, amino acids, and vitamins A, B and K, almost 60 altogether. It is a main source of muco-polysaccharides that have anti-inflammatory and healing properties, used to rehydrate and revitalize skin. Laminaria is used as an ingredient in spa treatments for slimming and recharging the body’s vitamins to speed metabolism.
Red algae, or rhodophyta, grows at depths deeper than their brown cousins, but also at shallow depths and often times can be found in fresh water. It plays a major role in building coral reefs. Red algae, sometimes called the prettiest of seaweeds, are red due to a protein known as phycoerythrin. This protein enables it to absorb and photosynthesize blue and violet light at depths up to 250 feet.
Red algae are rich in sulfated polysaccharide carrageenan. Huh? Well, it’s complicated and you can look it up if you want, but it acts as a natural stabilizer and thickener. Red algae also concentrates magnesium, iron, calcium, manganese, amino acids, folic acids, fatty acid omega-3 and omega-6 oils, and antioxidants. Used in Ocean Rescue’s formulas, it is a wonderful natural ingredient that helps soothe and soften sensitive skin. Be sure and visit our research section for a more detailed discussion of fatty acids by our guest contributor, Dr. Mark Edwards.
Certain types of red algae can also be used as an exfoliator. Its calcified exterior is rich in minerals and can be ground into a fine powder to be used in many marine-based spa treatments.
Green algae, or chlorophyta, gets the name from its high levels of chlorophyll. It is very reliant on photosynthesis to stay alive and is therefore found mostly in shallow waters. You may have seen green algae on beach walks as well. It is sometimes called sea lettuce. It has less mineral content than other seaweeds but is a rich source of vitamin C.