Irish Moss got its name when it was made famous during the potato famine in Ireland in the 1800s. Because people were starving and desperate for food, they began eating the red alga that was on the rocks. As a result, the name stuck. This alga is also referred to as carrageen moss because of its high carrageen content.
Carrageenan is made from a type of red seaweed known as Chondrus crispus. Archaeologists estimate humans have been harvesting seaweed, like Chondrus crispus, for nearly 14,000 years. Evidence of red seaweed’s medicinal benefits in China can be traced back to 600 BC, and it was originally used as a food source around 400 BC on the British Isles.
Often referred to as Irish moss, the thick seaweed used for carrageenan grows abundantly along the rocky coastline of the Atlantic, including the shores of the British Isles, North America and Europe. This seaweed is especially abundant along Ireland’s rocky coastline, where it has been cultivated for hundreds of years for both its gelling properties in foods as well as purported medicinal purposes. In fact, carrageenan’s name comes from Carrigan Head, a cape near Northern Ireland, the title of which was inspired by the Irish word “carraigín,” which translates to “little rock.”
According to ancient Irish folklore, Irish Moss was carried on trips for protection and safety, and placed beneath rugs to increase luck and to ensure a steady flow of money into the house or pockets of the household.