Seaflora: The ocean’s harvest

The self-proclaimed Seaweed Lady is a third generation seaweed picker.

Credit: Andrei Federov

If you’re wandering the beaches on the edge of the Juan de Fuca Strait at low tide, you might see Diane Bernard collecting her briny crop of seaweed where the huge upwellings of cold oxygenated water make the location a prime spot for her harvest.

And if you’ve been fortunate to dine at Sooke Harbour House, The Aerie or C Restaurant, you’ve likely supped on some of Bernard’s beloved bounty. The self-proclaimed “Seaweed Lady” describes herself as a third-generation seaweed picker, though her Acadian ancestors used seaweed for more utilitarian purposes, like stuffing mattresses and insulating buildings. Bernard’s background in economic development in coastal communities helps explain the manifesto behind her “value add” mantra.

“We do not look at Canadian wild resources the way the rest of the world does,” she says. “We are too quick to chop it, log it, dig it, mine it, fish it – and we sell it off in the lowest form possible. It just drains the resources in the worst way.” Instead, Bernard brings the public, chefs and the spa industry to the beach – outfitted in rubber boots no less – to tour her wild ocean garden, packed full of 700 species, including the dozen or so seaweed species she harvests and supplies to high-end restaurants and resorts.

When she broached chefs with her seaweed venture in 2000, they were quick to share Bernard’s passion for what she describes as a “perfect food” that’s packed with fibre, vitamins and all the essential amino acids. True to her “value add,” Bernard has also expanded her seaweed offerings with her line of skincare products, and her Wild Sea Garden Tea, a blend of seaweed, green tea and local mint.