What is Kelp (Laminaria)?
Kelp (kun bu, 昆布), also known as Laminaria, is one of the fastest growing seaweeds on earth that can grow as much as 300 feet in a single year. Kelp forests grow primarily on the Pacific Coast, and they provide food and shelter for thousands of fish and marine mammal species, which means that the plant plays a very important role in the underwater ecosystem.
The earliest evidence of human usage of Sea Kelp is found in the stone age sites in Africa. It is suggested that the growth of Kelp around the Pacific Rim may have facilitated the early migration of humans across Northeast Asia into the Americas. This is also known as the Kelp Highway Hypothesis.
Also, as Kelp is very efficient at creating methane and sugars that can be converted to ethanol, it is a possible eco-friendly energy source.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Kelp falls under the category of ‘Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough’. Cold in nature, Kelp can help individuals who have too much Heat in their body, such as those experiencing a Yang Excess or a Yin Deficiency, to restore a healthy yin-yang balance.
Salty in taste, Kelp has a draining effect on the body by clearing accumulations, removing phlegm and softening hard lumps. In particular, the herb targets the Kidneys, the Liver and the stomach.
Functions and Benefits of Kelp (Laminaria)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Kelp has the following benefits:
Kelp can reduce phlegm and soften hardness. In TCM, phlegm is a condition caused by the Stagnation of fluids that tend to start in the Spleen and go towards the Lungs. When such Stagnation accumulates, it thickens and becomes phlegm, which often transforms from Cool to Hot as the condition worsens.
Kelp can help to treat the later stages of such Stagnation: Hot and Dry Phlegm with symptoms such as cough, goiter or scrofula. Also, this herb can help to address nodules in the neck and fullness in the chest due to phlegm, as well as palpable abdominal masses, Liver and Spleen enlargement, and a swollen painful scrotum.
Also, Sea Kelp can promote urination to reduce swelling. For example, this herb can address edema and dysuria.
Other than the above Kelp benefits, modern studies also suggest that Kelp can promote thyroid functions. As Kelp is high in natural iodine, which is essential to the proper functioning of the thyroid, it can help to encourage growth, energy and metabolism in the body. Hence, Kelp can also support our immune system to fight infections.
Low in sugar but high in fiber and non-fatty acids, Sea Kelp is effective in lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It can help to slow down the metabolism of sugar, which reduces sugar spikes that are commonly found in diabetics after eating. This herb can reduce inflammation in joints and bones as well, which alleviates pain, especially for people suffering from arthritis.
Extremely alkaline, Kelp helps to keep our body’s pH balanced and prevent cancer growth. The high amount of lignans and phytochemicals found in Kelp also limit the amount of cancer cells that can be released into the bloodstream and limit tumour growth. The high iron, calcium and magnesium levels in Kelp also promotes better sleep through menopause.
In addition, Sea Kelp can be used as a diuretic, which helps the body to shed water retained, aid weight maintenance and address obesity. The nutrients that the herb contains also contributes to hair health and strength, which may help to reduce split ends and breakages.
How to Use Kelp (Laminaria)
Kelp is available in various forms, such as raw, powdered and dried. You can find Kelp in Japanese restaurants, Korean restaurants and many grocery stores. It is very easy to incorporate Kelp into your diet. For example, you can:
- Add organic, dried Kelp into soups and stews
- Use Raw Kelp in salads and main dishes
- Sprinkle dried Kelp flakes onto foods as a seasoning
- Serve it cold with oil and sesame seeds
- Blend it with other ingredients into juice
In Japan, Kelp is often cooked with beans to reduce flatulence because it can convert indigestible sugars.
Sea Kelp is also available in supplement form, such as in capsules or powder.
When applied topically, Kelp can moisturise skin, reduce acne, redness and swelling, and restore radiance to your skin.
Cautions and Side Effects of Kelp (Laminaria)
Kelp should not be used by individuals who are experiencing Cold due to Spleen and stomach deficiency. Pregnant and breastfeeding women may want to avoid Kelp for the time being too.
Also, if Sea Kelp is overconsumed, it will result in an overdose of iodine, which can disrupt thyroid functions. Hence, Kelp is unsuitable for individuals with hyperthyroidism. As Kelp takes up minerals from the water they inhabit, it may absorb heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead too. These minerals may be hazardous for health.
To lower this risk, you can look out for certified organic versions of Sea Kelp that mention that the product has been tested for arsenic.
We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Kelp into your healthcare routine.
Here is a summary for Kelp:
- Herb name (Chinese): 昆布
- Herb name (Pin Yin): kūn bù
- Herb name (English): Kelp or Tangle
- Herb name (Botanical): Thallus Laminariae; Thallus Eckloniae
- Origin of species: Laminaria japonica Aresch.; Ecklonia kurome Okam
- Part(s) of herb used: Thalline
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Shandong, Liaoning, Zhejiang
- Taste(s) & Properties: Salty; Cold; Administrates the Liver and Kidney meridians
- Actions: Acts as a diuretic, and relieves oedema; Relieves conditions of glandular swellings by softening nodules
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Kim, S. K., & Bhatnagar, I. (2011). Physical, chemical, and biological properties of wonder kelp—Laminaria. Advances in food and nutrition research, 64, 85-96.[Accessed on 9th November 2022]
Weng, W., & Chen, J. (1996). The eastern perspective on functional foods based on traditional Chinese medicine. Nutrition reviews, 54(11), S11. [Accessed on 9th November 2022]
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