Sea mosses are red seaweeds belonging to the Rhodophytes.
These are numerous in variety and tremendous in their medical and pharmaceutical properties. However, there is massive confusion starting from their names to types available.
It becomes almost impossible to differentiate between products claiming to be sea mosses. This article will help you identify two main types of sea mosses and avail their benefits.
Don’t let the word “moss” confuse you. These seaweeds are the type of marine red algae, mostly covering the rocky coastlines. Since they have a frilly appearance and do not grow more than a few inches, they are often taken as mosses.
The next biggest dilemma is to distinguish Irish Sea moss from Jamaican Sea moss.
To put it simply: Both these are cousin seaweeds but they do have some unique features.
Irish Sea Moss (Chondrus Crispus)
The Latin name of Irish Sea moss is Chondrus Crispus.
It takes its Irish name for being a frequent resident of the British Isles, especially Ireland. Other than this, the natural distribution of Chondrus Crispus entails rocky shores of the North Atlantic. It grows in cold waters and icy coastlines like Canada, Iceland, and North America.
The most favorable temperature is 65-70°F but Irish seaweed is immensely resilient and adapts to the harsher climate.
Irish moss has a single stripe with its upper part branching into a fan-like projection, giving it a typical frilly appearance. The colors vary from greenish-yellow to purplish-brown.
What are the Constituents of Irish Sea Moss?
Chondrus Crispus is rich in:
- Minerals like iodine, sulfur, zinc
- Amino acids
Carrageenan constitutes 55% of its nutritional value. Each of these constituents has therapeutic importance backed by evidence but carrageenan is the star of the show!
Carrageenan is a colloid with large insoluble particles and gel-like properties. It has been used in the food industry, for decades, as a thickening agent. Structurally, it is a sulfur-containing polysaccharide, which means it has repeated sugar units bonded together with a special glycosidic linkage. The percentage and structure of carrageenan differ according to the environmental conditions tolerated by sea moss.
What Are The Benefits Of Irish Sea Moss?
Irish Sea moss has immense pharmaceutical benefits:
#1 It Has Anti-coagulant Properties
Carrageenan and sulfur-containing galactans present in Chondrus Crispus tend to manipulate intrinsic coagulation pathways of your body and calm them. They enhance the activity of a protein called “anti-thrombin” which inhibits the formation of fibrinogen complex (the biological molecule responsible for blood clot formation). This reduces the risk of thrombus (a clot of blood lodged in arteries) and prevents heart attack or stroke.
#2 It Reduces The Risk Of Cancer
The β-carotene, phenolic compounds, and lutein found in Chondrus Crispus are potent anti-oxidants. They reduce the production of free radicals in the body and alleviate the risk of cancer. Besides, carrageenan also has a role in increasing the anti-mutagenic properties of Irish moss by preventing intestinal cancer. An animal study has demonstrated that dietary supplementation of Irish moss along with other seaweed extracts can lessen the risk of breast cancer.
#3 It Has Anti-Microbial Properties
Irish Sea moss has a unique property related to preventing infection. It is rich in bioactive compounds and metabolites that stun the growth of bacteria and viruses. They attack the protective layer of microbes, containing lipids, and disrupt their structural integrity. The mineral content also has zinc which is a strong anti-microbial substance. Doctors have been recommending it as a part of the immunity-boosting regimen for COVID-19. Chondrus Crispus is particularly effective against enveloped viruses, and bacteria causing food poisoning.
Jamaican Sea Moss (Genus Gracilaria)
Jamaican sea moss, also sometimes loosely called Irish moss, belongs to the genus Gracilaria.
This genus has a wide range of different species with slightly distinct properties. Jamaican sea moss prefers a warmer climate and grows abundantly on the coastlines of South America, Africa, and various Asian regions. It stays happiest in warm waters and tropical areas.
Unlike, the multi-branched appearance of Irish moss, the genus Gracilaria has a frond with flat, slender, and long branches. They have a wide variety of seaweeds, whose colors change with their environmental conditions as well as sunlight exposure.
This is due to numerous pigments, carotenoids, and phycobiliproteins present in them. Generally, most abundantly found Gracilaria sp. have pale, brownish or straw color due to intense exposure to sunlight. However, red, green, and purplish varieties also exist.
What Are The Constituents Present In Jamaican Sea Moss?
The Gracilaria genus is rich in:
- Fatty acids
- Phenolic compounds
- Amino acids
Agar, like carrageenan, is a polysaccharide composed of subunits of agarose and agaropectin. It also contains sulfur and has been used in commercial products like adhesives and suppositories. In contrast to carrageenan, it can be processed commercially on a large scale. This feature enhances the practical use of this seaweed.
What Are The Benefits of Jamaican Sea Moss?
Jamaicans have been using it as an aphrodisiac by mixing in warm milk. However, its benefits go far beyond this.
#1 It Relieves Constipation
Agar is a large, insoluble molecule with a water-retaining power. When given to a constipated person, it acts as a laxative and absorbs moisture from the gut; hence, relieves constipation.
#2 It Has Contraceptive potential
Several species of genus Gracilaria have contraceptive potential. They have a two-fold effect in preventing pregnancy by acting on both the female and male reproductive systems. They stop the implantation of the embryo into the uterus and kill sperms. According to an animal study, the spermicidal activity is achieved by disrupting the wall of sperm cells.
#3 It Improves Heart Health
The species G. lichenoid of Gracilaria genus has an antihypertensive effect by acting on the cardiovascular system. It relieves the burden from the heart and prevents the weakening of cardiac muscles. Another species has a potent diuretic effect (increased urine production) which is helpful for patients suffering from heart disease. When cardiovascular health is compromised, fluid seeps out of arteries and accumulates in the body, causing edema. It can also gather in the lungs and cause shortness of breath. the genus Gracilaria alleviates this at high doses by excreting fluid out of the body as urine.
The Final Verdict
Irish and Jamaican sea mosses belong to the group red algae but are distant cousins and distinctly different species.
They are found in distinguished habitats, contain diverse active ingredients, and show unique medicinal properties.