Coastal Foraging: Our shellfish and seaweed adventures in Ireland

This week we will take you to our stories by the seaside and do some coastal foraging. Before the rise of agriculture as we know it today, our ancestors were foraging for their daily meals. Many of the vegetables, spices, seaweeds and shellfish we find by the sea today will have been harvested by our ancestors in the past.

Historically people have always chosen to live by the sea as the shorelines offer plenty of nutrients for our diets. From the cliffs and sand dunes to the rock pools when the tides go out, there are food sources everywhere you look. Today, this tradition isn’t as popular as we have got used of the age of convenience where our local supermarket offers everything we need for our daily meals.

For those of you who haven’t tried it, please give it a go or join us for a unique experience outdoors.

There are treasures to be found in unexpected places and it is the ideal way to spend an afternoon by the beach. Our coastal foraging treks take place in Ireland with the clean Atlantic coastline and predictable tides. Let’s start with the weather. The weather in Ireland is always a good way to start a conversation. Sunshine, rain, wind and changeable weather patterns make Irish people fascinated by the weather. I should know, I’m Irish. My friends and family could spend hours just discussing the forecast for the days ahead.

You are never guaranteed to get warm weather when walking by the shore in Ireland. Raindrops comes in all shapes and sizes, tiny drops that sprinkle the ground, sideways rain that catches you off guard, warm drizzling rain that soaks you to the bone but all of these weather conditions combine to make it extra rewarding with you stumble upon some unique culinary treats.

From fresh muscles to pools of winkles, you will find everything you need for a warm cup of seafood chowder along the Irish coastline. My first coastal foraging excursion was fruitful. As a child my mother would buy us small plastic buckets and short fishing rods to scoop out the seaweed from the giant rockpools all along the Co.Clare coastlines.  Picking was part of every stage of growing up. From child to adolescent I made the transition from bucket to bag and back again when picking along the shore.

My grandfather would take the whole family to a nearby beach and we would eagerly wait until the tide had gone fully out, revealing the rockpools, seaweed and most importantly the shellfish hiding underneath. The art of picking was simple, patience was the only real skill required. Myself and my sister would spend hours scanning the shallow pools of water for the biggest winkles, crabs and mussels. Although all of the shellfish that we scoured for were easily identifiable, not all were easy to find.

Winkles were the easiest to collect. They tend to roll with the tide so it was not a matter of searching for them but more time was spent deciding on which ones to collect. I never tool the baby ones. This was my one rule for collecting winkles. Once you have avoiding the baby shells you can enjoy scooping out large handfuls of winkles alons most shorelines.

When it came to crabs I was always a little nervous to pick them up. Their claws would reach right out to stab pinch you if you were too quick. Sometimes we would just play with them for awhile before placing them carefully back in were they belonged. Laughing as they scrambled off to find their pals. Mussels were always considered the biggest treat. They clung tightly to the edges of rocks, making it more difficult to pull them off. Nothing can beat a pot of fresh mussels cooked in garlic and tomato juices. Give it a try. Believe me you won’t be disappointed.

Why not try a spot of razor clam hunting while you are by the shore. Simply bring some salt on your journey and seek out the small holes in the beach. Pour in the salt and watch in awe as the razor clams come to life.

Other favourites of mine include kelp and seaweed. These make delicious additions to salads. You can also use them to enhance the flavour of any seafood dish.

Let’s talk through how we spend an average day by the sea, foraging for some coastal treasures. We rise early to greet the sun. After choosing a meeting point we take some time to make sure we have all the utensils we need. Bucket or basket, check, pair of scissors, check, seaweed guidebook, check, hat and gloves, check. We prepare a picnic, stuffed with local ingrediants to give you a taste of the land. Fresh nettle pesto, brown soda bread, a flask full of tea and some fruit are the basics we need.


We are ready to rock in the rockpools by the wild Atlantic sea. It is always best to go with a guide who has experience identifying the goods. After meeting up with our local guide we walk towards the sea, taking time to talk to fellow foragers and enjoy the fresh air along the way. We spend some time scouring the seaside to find the ideal place to perch. This can take some time but we have timed the tides so we know that the rockpools will be visible from the edge. FYI, always check the tides to ensure the tide is out before you get ready for your trip.

With our cups in hand we pour a hot cuppa while our guide gives us the lowdown on the items we will collect for the day. Mussles, peri-winkles, seaweed and seabeet are a must, everything else is a welcome bonus. We spend the next few blissful hours scouring the rocks, learning about the sea, picking shellfish and enjoying the sun shining down on us to provide us with a welcome bit of Vitamin D.

Once we have found our pickings for the day it is off to our local guides house to create some tasty wild dishes where we will use our recently found treasure to whip up some well deserved dinner. A glass of guinness in hand and a bowl of seafood chowder in the other, what more could we want. This is our perfect day by the seaside.

HERE ARE A FEW COASTAL FORAGING TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE:

DON’T let the weather prevent you from your next adventure. Remember that a little rain never hurt anyone. If you happen to get a sunny day then take advantage of it, spending a few hours by the shore.

LEAVE enough for others. Everyday we hear warnings of over fishing so be mindful of this when you are foraging by the sea. Only pick enough for one days pickings, giving the shores time to replenish its goods over time.

WEAR suitable clothing. This is key to any foraging adventure. Waterproof shoes comes in handy when you playing in rockpools. Also, bring a spare pair of socks to keep your feet dry.

KNOW the tides. Most countries will offer websites that give you the times of the tidal currents. Keep a close eye on these. You don’t want to venture all the way to the beach to find that you have to wait five hours until the tide recedes.

DON’T be afraid of seaweed or crabs. The waves may look rough but the sea is gentle with many varieties of produce to try. You never know what treasures you will find.

Being near the sea, watching the tides, creatures, and plant life of the ocean can be a wonderful experience, away from screens and connecting with nature.

Enjoy every moment of your coastal foraging trip. If you need any more information on our fruit and foraging tours please contact us at Orchardsnearme.com

Until next time! Happy Adventures!

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