Palmaria palmata is one of the most common reds found along our shores, often seen washed up on the beach from midsummer through to October, It grows along the Atlantic seaboard from Portugal to Norway and along the northerly coasts of Iceland, Canada, USA, Russia and the Baltic.
Distinguishable by its dark brownish-red flat blades of about 3-6 cms across and up to 50 cms long springing from a discoid holdfast, it lives in the midlittoral zone, quite often attached as an epiphyte to stipes of Laminaria. When splayed out on the sand, it resembles a Rorschach test, or the imprint of a firework explosion.
Commonly known as dulse, dilsk or red sea lettuce, it has been a source of food for centuries to the people of these lands, (St Columba’s monks ate it from the shores of Iona 1400 years ago). It was particularly welcome in the lean months of early spring, as it grows from February in the relatively temperate seawater while land-based vegetation is still in hibernation. As with most seaweeds, it is high in protein and contains all the essential trace elements, as well as being a good source of minerals and vitamins. It is regularly harvested in Ireland where it is eaten dried and uncooked as a snack. In Scotland and across the Mediterranean, it is more commonly fried as a vegetable or used to flavour soups and stews. It can also be given as fodder to animals.