Irish moss to the rescue

Do you need saving from a ratcheting cough? If so, Irish moss, also known as carrageen, is the cure for you

Do you need saving from a ratcheting cough? If so, Irish moss, also known as carrageen, is the cure for you

IT’S THE cough that does it. Without the cough – the ratcheting, racking, exhausting, demoralising cough – the swine flu epidemic laying so many people low might be somewhat tolerable. But the cough adds its machine-gun stacatto to top off the misery of it all, the low cur of illness.

So, what do we need when a cough smites us? We need a knight on a white horse to rescue us. And that gallant knight is none other than Irish moss, to give carrageen (chondrus crispus) its most noble title. Irish moss to the rescue.

Carrageen’s medicinal qualities are profound. People take it as a demulcent medicine for coughs and peptic ulcers. It fixes sore throats and chest problems, thanks to acting as both an expectorant and an antiviral – carrageen will shift that damned phlegm.


In east Cork, locals also believed that Irish moss was good for sick calves, and would keep cancer away, and Mrs Beeton used carrageen in recipes in her chapter on “Invalid Cooking”.

Those khaki-red fronds are packed with vitamin A, vitamin B12 and iodine, along with calcium, magnesium and iron, so no wonder they ride over the hill in convoy to vanquish that bronchitis and that chesty cough.

In the old days, when a woman’s priorities in the Irish household were ranked as práta, páiste, feamainn – potatoes, children, seaweed – we took carrageen often, usually as that wobbly, lactic white pudding, carrageen moss pudding.

The pudding may not be fashionable in domestic cooking anymore, but our best chefs all revere it: carrageen moss pudding is a staple of the dessert trolley in Ballymaloe House and as far north as Rathmullan House in Donegal.

Denis Cotter of Cork’s Café Paradiso makes his carrageen as a fashionable panna cotta, and plops a port-soaked fig on the plate alongside it.

Clodagh McKenna uses lemon balm along with hers, while one of our leading sea vegetable experts, Seamus Moran of Lo Tide foods in Co Mayo, has a lovely recipe for carrageen and cinnamon ice cream on his website.

Seamus’s recipe for a carrageen cough cure is just about identical to the way I make it, though I would add the lemon juice to the strained and cooled carrageen liquid.


7g carrageen

500ml water

Juice and rind of 1 lemon

3 cloves

Honey to taste

Boil carrageen moss in water. Add lemon juice, cloves and lemon rind. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain and add honey to taste.

Journalist and food writer Joe McNamee takes no chances with his family cure, adding in super-foods in the shape of ginger and cinnamon.


1 litre fresh pressed apple juice (carton is fine, just don’t get concentrate)

2 cubic inches fresh root ginger sliced very thin

1 fist-sized ball of dried

carrageen moss

1 inch stick of cinnamon

4 cloves


Soak carrageen in water for 10 minutes to reconstitute. Rinse and place into a heavy-based pot with all other ingredients. Put on tight-fitting lid, turn on a very low heat and bring to gentle simmer (this could take 20-25 minutes). Let simmer for another 20 minutes with the lid on. Pour through sieve into mug as needed. Add a spoon of honey in cup to seal the deal, but wait until the temperature has gone down a little so the antiseptic properties of the honey aren’t boiled away. Drink as much as required. At the weekends or whenever you have been especially good, you can slip in a drop of brandy for extra good health.

The River Cottage has produced a series of handbooks on foraging. No 5 is Edible Seashore by John Wright, and this is my version of a recipe from it. The original uses fresh elderflowers: I have substituted elderflower cordial, so that the pudding can be made now.


Serves 6

25g dried Carrageen

200ml milk

50g caster sugar

3cl elderflower cordial

200ml double cream

Soak the carrageen in cold water for 20 minutes. Pour 600ml water into a saucepan, add the carrageen and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the milk into another pan and add the sugar. Heat slowly until the liquid is about to boil, then remove from the heat.

Strain the hot, sticky carrageen mixture through a very fine sieve into the sweet milk, pressing down to extract all the setting agent from the carrageen. Add the elderflower cordial.

Lightly whisk the cream into the mixture, then quickly pour into darioles or cups. Refrigerate until set, which doesn’t take very long.