Meet the Seaweed Master
“Plants are like sovereign nations; I always ask them for an exchange – an offering that feeds and nourishes me, and my commitment to them is to harvest in a way that isn’t harmful and will continue to be available for future generations.”
– James Jungwirth, Founder of Nature Spirit Herbs
The day begins at 4am. The scent of coffee wafts through the air and there is a quiet, sleepy lull among the group as wetsuits are zipped up, and gear is assembled for the harvest ahead. Our location is a remote town on the Pacific Northwest coast. As we begin to take the half-mile hike to our location to reach the intertidal zone (where the land meets the sea), we catch up on today’s news and reflect on a friendship and business partnership that has spanned almost twenty years.
I started Pangea because I wanted to create efficacious and luxurious products with the highest quality organic ingredients – long before clean, green, or blue beauty were introduced as buzzwords in the beauty community. I’ve spent my life traveling to every continent, meeting farmers and artisans who, like me, are dedicated to their purpose and defy conventional norms. It was kismet when I met James and the Nature Spirit Herbs team. Thirteen years ago today, we harvested in this exact location and we share a laugh as we look to the ocean and then back to each other and reflect on all that’s changed and how much older and wiser we are now (are we?).
James founded his company, Nature Spirit Herbs, back in 1990 – without a business plan and with a ton of passion for seaweed and its incredible benefits when ingested and applied topically. The passion for his craft radiates from him: “This is my favorite time - the colors at dawn, and the time I have to reflect on the relationships I have with the things that I harvest – they are my friends,” he says. He describes how each harvest is a privilege – he is asking for a gift, a contribution to his family’s wellbeing.
We begin to wade into the low tide, where the current is still surprisingly strong. After a couple of rough tumbles, we find our balance and start harvesting the Gigartina – a red seaweed rich in essential minerals and polysaccharide gels and known to help support hydration and moisture retention in skin. Every piece is harvested by hand, carefully selected, and cut with intention to ensure the vegetation can continue to grow and reproduce. A maximum of 25% of any one species is harvested from each location per year – to preserve the ecosystem and support regeneration within four months.
After placing the Gigartina in the shade behind rocks, we move to our next location to harvest the Kombu and Wakame – brown seaweeds loaded with antioxidants and polysaccharide sulfates; both are water-soluble to provide easy absorption of benefits into the skin. These grow deeper in the intertidal zone, and we find ourselves again balancing the ocean’s vastness and the unexpected thrust of the waves coming toward us. The light cast against the sea creates a golden illumination on the midribs of the Wakame, and James shares that these grow between five to eight feet long, almost feather-like, with undulating edges. “Much research is available in cultures with high seaweed consumption to support that there are lower and reduced possible risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease," says James.
After several hours, we take a break in the early afternoon, and I find myself in a quiet alcove where I’m able to reflect on our harvest. Standing there in the ocean, I am overwhelmed by the feeling of the vastness of the beauty I’m surrounded by – the tranquility of the water, the vivid colors, and the rhythmic movements of the seaweed below me. And I feel immense gratitude for James and his craft and our partnership over the years. Could I use a more accessible and less expensive ingredient in our formulas? Sure, many brands make compromises – choosing profit margins over purity and craftsmanship. I choose to support people and methods that provide preservation of our resources; I believe, as a founder, that we must take great responsibility for the impact of our decisions on future generations ahead.
We embark back up our half-mile hike; our harvest is transported back with James, and his family immediately begins the process of hang-drying everything. The seaweed dries in the warm inland sun overnight, and then is sorted, trimmed, transformed into a powder, and stored for freshness. This process ensures that maximum flavor, nutrition, and bioactive properties are preserved – as most commercially available herbs can be over five years old when made available to consumers.
I’m so proud to be able to provide this pure, bioactive ingredient in Pangea’s Superfood Smoothie Mask. What started with very humble beginnings as a mask that I made in my kitchen and shared with dinner party guests has developed a cult following over the last twenty years. And I owe our success to the incredible ingredients that James and other farmers provide to us – I believe it’s essential for consumers to have the opportunity to connect directly with the source. If you haven’t had a chance to try this one, it is our multi-tasking miracle product – it helps remove impurities, unclog pores, and gently exfoliate, and the seaweed helps balance skin’s moisture levels.
Thank you, James, and the entire Nature Spirit Herbs team for allowing me to support the harvest this year.
And thank you to DJ Pierce – Pangea’s Creative Director and my friend, for capturing and creating the memories from this year’s harvest.