Looking at Diane Bernard one could easily surmise that she was destined to work with seaweed. That’s because the first thing you notice about the Sea-EO of organic product line, Seaflora Skincare are her astonishing light green eyes the colour of sea lettuce. “They’re not green contact lens or from eating seaweed,” laughs the third generation harvester. “My Acadian grandmother, originally from the Magdalen Islands near Prince Edward Island off Canada’s East Coast, wrapped fish and lobster in seaweed before grilling and also made us a delicious seaweed soup.”
Seaweed Is Earth’s Most Sustainable Natural Resource
It’s a spectacularly sunny day and in the distance isthe Juan de Fuca Strait framed by Washington’s snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Seals are basking in the sun and the heads of sea otters pop up through floating kelp like corks set adrift. Bernard is kitted out in tall gumboots and windbreaker, standing up to her kneesin British Columbia’s Salish Sea. It’s low-tide and she’s leadinga group of intrepid guests of the Fairmont Empress Hotel along the rocky coast of Sooke to Whiffin Spit,about forty minutes from downtown Victoria, onahands-on Wild Seaweed Tour organized by the hotel. Later, everyone will havethe opportunity to experience Seaflora’snourishing skincare attributes directly at the Willow Stream Spa at the Empress.
Like truffle-hunting, seaweed harvesting is a slow, meticulous processas individual pickers work from small boats to sustainably harvest along coastal waters between the spring and fall equinox. Using sharp tools, Bernard and her pickers must cut carefully to ensure future reproductive growth. The analogy totruffle foraging isn’t lost on Bernard. That’s because in her case, instead of cultivating from the earth, the Sooke resident started an ocean-to- table business in the 90s as a supplier of seaweed to gourmet restaurant chefs across Canada as the popularity of sushi soared.
You’ll Never Look At Seaweed in the Same Way Again
Seaweed has been regarded by the Japanese as a superfood for centuries and is consumed for its high iron content, nutritional properties and antioxidants.
“In fact, it was a chef who introduced me to the idea for a marine-based skincare line,” Bernard confides, “and that was my ‘aha!’ moment. But what he showed me from Europe was white, heavily perfumed and had hardly any seaweed in it. I knew I could do better,” she affirmed and in 2001 founded Seaflora Skincare.
Affectionately known by the locals as “The Seaweed Lady,”Bernard reaches into the cold water and pulls out a gigantic brown 10-foot-long Egregia kelp that looks like a boa Ariel would wear in “The Little Mermaid.” “Did you know there are over 700 kinds of seaweed and they are one of the healthiest plants in the ecosystem?” Bernard asks. “They don’t have a root system and instead many, like the fastest growing Bull kelp, attach themselves to rocks and can drift for miles. Seaweed absorbs nutrients directly from the ocean water into their blades where there are copious amounts of vitamins A, E and C as well as traces of over 60 minerals all highly sought after for healthy, hydrated skin,” she explains.
Species are diverse in red, brown and green varieties with textures that range from velvety and tissue papery to nubby and crunchy. Reaching into the saltwater not far from the shore, Bernard scoops up and pulls in more Egregia kelp as we move along around her, navigating rocks with our walking sticks. Turning it over, she’s like the proverbial ‘royal taster,’ popping an olive-like polyp into her mouth first before the group avidly chomps on samples too. Then Bernard squeezes what looks like plant blisters from the underside of the seaweed frond, spreading the refreshing gelatinous goop on hands and arms. Voila – instant moisturizer!
“The red Porphyraseaweed (converted into “nori” a dried seaweed staple for many Asians,) has a high concentration of sodium chloride which makes it a great anti-inflammatory,” explains Bernard. “It’s even being used on burn patients in hospitals.”
Feel Like A Mermaid
“I love soaking in my bathtub with a big frond of Costaria costatabecause it oozes an aloe vera-like gel that’s great for muscle aches,” she adds.
One of the most unusual seaweeds is the Iridea (from the latin word for iridescent.) Underwater, the plant reflects luminous blue flashes of fiery lights resembling an opal gemstone. But cupped in our hands outside the water, the alchemy dissipates back to a non-descript green seaweed. Used in the Seaflora line as an exfoliator and as a light facial masque, “it provides a wonderful, sensuous, gorgeous treat for the face,” Bernard enthuses.
With their lab headquarters about a mile away, Seaflora worked with engineering students at Camonsun College in Victoria to help them build a machine to gently break down the seaweeds and retain as much of the fibre as possible when it’s processed. All products are Canadian and USDA Certified Organic Wild Seaweeds.
As a dedicated environmentalist married to a marine biologist, Bernard concludes our Wild Seaweed Tour with food for thought: “You know, it’s a big wild garden out there and we have an obligation to keep our marine environment pristine.”
Back at the Fairmont Empress Hotel’s Willow Stream Spa, I’ve just experienced an invigorating scrub with Seaflora’s wild seaweed – based products that remove body impurities while smoothing and revitalizing the skin. It’s the first step in a 90-minute head-to-toe Salish Sea Vitality Treatment. After a private shower to rinse off the scrub, Heidi, my Willow Stream therapist applies a twelve-inch kelp chamois to my back, (seaweed comes dried but springs back to life when immersed in water,) and allows the body to absorb its antioxidants. Small chamois are gently applied under the eyes for extra hydration. A firm massage follows using Sea Kelp Lotion and Seaweed Gel after which I’m wrapped in a luxuriating body cocoon of cotton sheets. It’s a blissful way to relax and contemplate the morning’s Sooke adventure with Diane Bernard while indulging in the rich healing properties of the ocean’s most proliferate plantlife.
To take part in a Wild Seaweed Tour, contact the concierge at the Fairmont Empress Victoria. The hotel’s Willow Stream Spa offers an exclusive selection of SeaFlora treatments.