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Forget kale, go kelp

April 27th, 2016

Who better to give us lowdown than a man who had a genus of kelp named after him, Louis Druehl?

Lately Louis Druehl was newsworthy because he’s written a very readable, Cannery Row-styled novel set in the West Coast fishing community of Bamfield in the 1970s, Cedar, Salmon and Weed (Granville Island 2015).

But it’s his scientific and business activities that might one day make him better known.

Louis Druehl and his wife Rae operate Canadian Kelp Resources Ltd., a company that produces sea vegetables (Barkley Sound Kelp) and operates a kelp farm. Mostly they sell in western Canada via two distributors, PSC Natural Foods and Horizon, to health food stores and “progressive” groceries.

Druehl, Louis Old Man & the Cedar with kelpThe Japanese have long eaten kelp. Now North American are beginning to harvest and eat it in stirfry, as roasted chips or in stews. The Tofino Brewey makes Kelp Stout. Some restaurants in B.C. that serve “sea vegetables” include Tojo’s Japanese Restaurant, Wickinninish Inn and The Wolf in the Fog (named last year as the best new Canadian restaurant, featuring Bamfield Seaweed Salad).

Now Harbour Publishing is publishing a revised and expanded version of Louis Druehl’s guide, Pacific Seaweeds ($28.95), co-written with Bridgette E. Clarkston. Pacific Seaweeds is the authoritative guide to over 100 common species of seaweeds in the Pacific Northwest, ranging from the coastline of southeast Alaska to central California. With full-colour design, it includes new species, additional photos and info on new technologies.

A kelp genus called Druehlii was named after Louis Druehl to honour his lifetime of kelp research. That honour was short-lived, however, as an older name was discovered the accreditation for Druehlii got dumped. So he was accorded a lesser honour when a kelp species restricted to Haida Gwaii was named Saccharina druehlii.

So now, for all those foodies out there who wish to impress your friends as you chow down on sea vegetables at a high-end restaurant, here are The Top Ten Things You Don’t Know About Kelp.


  1. The female kelp produces a perfume that attracts the sperm. This substance smells like gin.


  1. Kelp is the source of umami, a flavour enhancer. The new dicipline gastrophysics was partly started to understand this fifth taste.


  1. The brown pigment of kelp, fucoxanthin, is a strong antioxidant.
  2. The slime of kelp, fucoidan, is thought to hold off the diseases associated with aging (hypertension, diabetes, stroke, etc.).


  1. Iodine, as an element, was first discovered in kelp. The concentration of iodine in kelp is up to 20,000 greater than in seawater.


  1. In case of nuclear war or meltdown of a nuclear plant, eat some kelp and load up your thyroid gland with the good cold stuff and not the radioactive iodine that can be lethal.


  1. Kelp are not plants or animals but plantamials. They are sessile and photosynthetic but when it comes to minute structure and sex they are animals.


  1. Kelp is considered an excellent source of biofuel. It can be easily grown, does not compete with corn and the like for valuable agricultural land. I call the potential alcohol derived from kelp, kelpanol.


  1. The San Francisco Philharmonic featured kelp horns on one occasion.


  1. Kelp brownies are substituted for dope confections by matured hippies.




Modelled on John Steinbeck’s classic Cannery Row, Louis Druehl’s debut novel Cedar, Salmon and Weed (Granville Island 2015) describes Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the 1970s through the eyes of a well-intentioned local known as Gaz, a builder, marine biologist and marijuana cultivator who dreams of building a cedar palace. He’s a hard-working guy who falls hard for Heidi, a visiting student at the local marine research station.

Along the way the reader is introduced to an endearing and believable mix of fishermen, hippies, First Nations and the scientists. It’s the Great Bamfield Novel by someone who knows the town’s manners and history.

Those who have braved the 60-mile gravel road from Port Alberni to Bamfield can easily agree with Simon Winchester’s assessment of Bamfield in the New York Times as a tight-knit town full of hidden intrigues and eccentrics…”the perfect subject for a novel.”

Druehl, Louis on boardwalk Tom Bird photo

Louis Druehl on the Bamfield boardwalk.

It’s a world where men routinely piss on the smouldering embers of a fire and people can tell you the difference between a native oyster and the introduced Japanese oyster. Where a mind-blowing psilocybin and mozzarella omelette is common breakfast fare. Where Indians might still prefer to call themselves Indians. Back in the Seventies…

“Bamfield is many worlds,” writes Druehl. “Some say a world for each inhabitant, each end-of-the-roader. The world of the lonely fisherman facing monstrous payments on his boat, staring at the trolling wires dragging dozens of hooks, imagining a school of salmon–his ticket out of hell–ready to strike. The ancient schoolmarm shepherding twelve kids, ages six to eighteen, into the amazing world of out there, while her sailor lover lies on the bottom of the Atlantic. The aging lesbians, who bake and take in laundry, who pretend to be what they are not, livinig in fear of being discovered for what they are. The drunks, the wife-beaters, the cheats, the boisterous, the insecure, and the dull, they all have their little worlds, their dirty secrets and great sorrows, and occasional joys.”

Also editor of The New Bamfielder, Louis Druehl was a professor of marine botany at Simon Fraser University for thirty years. He has also taught field-oriented seaweed courses at the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories and was influential in establishing the Bamfield Marine Station, often working in association with the University of Alaska. His research focuses on all aspects of kelp, including its evolution, ecology and physiology.


Pacific Seaweeds (Harbour Publishing 2001, 2016)

Cedar, Salmon and Weed (Granville Island Publishing 2015) 978-1-926991-61-0 $22.95 / ebook 978-1-926991-62-7 $9.99

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