ForagingWild Recipes

How to Make Bull Kelp Pickles

Latest posts by Alanna Kieffer (see all)
3.5 from 2 votes

Salvaging Seaweed and Bull Kelp Pickles!

On the Oregon Coast, there is an abundance of wild coastal foods available for harvesting on land and in the sea; Dungeness crab, salmon, oysters, halibut, the list goes one.  Many of these are known and favored by both our commercial and recreational fisheries, but one coastal edible that many foragers and fisherman may look right over is seaweed. 

One of my favorite seaweeds, or kelps, to harvest and pickle is bull kelp! Keep reading to learn how to salvage seaweed and make bull kelp pickles.

Seaweeds span our coastal range and cover our intertidal ecosystems. In fact, the Pacific Northwest is home to more kelp species than anywhere else on the planet! Yet it’s safe to say that most people don’t know much about seaweed and/or kelp identification and edibility (kelp refers to the group of large brown seaweeds). 

While there is no commercial harvesting of seaweed allowed in Oregon, there is a recreational harvesting season of live seaweed from March to mid June, only 4 months of the year! Live seaweed harvesting refers to cutting seaweeds off of a rock or substrate that they are still physically attached to. But outside of this season, foragers are still allowed to salvage seaweed off of the beaches, or collect any that has already been detached from its substrate. Salvaging is also a  great solution for collecting seaweeds that may grow out of reach of low tide beaches.

The main thing to consider when salvaging seaweeds is freshness. Really, a seaweed should appear as though it just washed out of the ocean, is fresh, and in good shape. And if you don’t necessarily know what it looks like when it’s fresh, just remember fresh means it’s not deteriorating, getting super stinky, covered in flies, or whatever else food does when it goes bad. 

For Bull Kelp Pickles, the species you need to harvest or salvage is obviously Bull Kelp, a species that I actually only ever salvage off beaches, rather than actually live harvesting. Bull Kelp grows in deeper waters, where low tides don’t always reach, meaning you would need a boat to access a bull kelp bed. While it sometimes grows in great abundance, in Oregon we are rapidly losing our bull kelp (for reasons I won’t go into in this article), so I stick to salvaging bull kelp rather than removing it from the environment it’s growing in. 

Bull Kelp makes up the majority of our kelp forests along the Oregon Coast, and provides habitat for thousands of species. Though hard to believe because of their size, they are actually an annual species, meaning they die off and return every year. Bull kelp (and most other seaweeds) are incredibly efficient photosynthesizers, and under the right conditions, these algae can grow up to 10 inches per day! Through their process of photosynthesis, they are also providing us and our waters with necessary oxygen.

Identifying Bull Kelp

Now, of all the varieties of seaweeds, Bull Kelp is pretty easy to identify. If you’ve ever stepped foot on any beach from Northern California to Alaska, you’ve likely seen it, or even played with it. It is made up of one very long (10-60ft) stipe, or stem-like structure, with a big hollow bulb at the top. Most often it will still have long golden green blades coming off of the bulb, or if those have been removed in its travel to the shore, it’ll just have little nubs on the bulb where they were once attached. Upon further inspection you may realize that the long stipe and the bulb are hollow, making them incredibly fun to jump on and pop. The stipe, or long stem, is actually the part of the bull kelp that most people pickle. 

Pickling bull kelp once you have the kelp itself is relatively straightforward. You do it almost exactly the same as pickling cucumbers or anything else worth pickling. Since the stipe is hollow and round, kelp pickles are aesthetically pleasing, crunchy, and delicious! 

Continue reading below for a delicious bull kelp pickle recipe! 

How to Make Bull Kelp Pickles

Equipment needed: 32 oz mason jars, or multiple smaller jars.

Looking for more coastal foraging recipes? Check out these Gooseneck Barnacles in Garlic-Beer Sauce by Katie Wiley!

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How to Make Bull Kelp Pickles

Recipe by Alanna Kieffer
3.5 from 2 votes
Course: Foraging, Wild Recipes


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  • 12 ” length of bull kelp stipe

  • ⅔ cup Water

  • 2 cups White vinegar

  • 1 cup Sugar

  • 4 tbsp Pickling spice

  • 4 bay leaves

  • 1 small onion

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • Lemon juice


  • Be sure you have clean, sterilized glass jars – lid and jar can be sterilized by boiling in hot water for a minute.
  • After harvesting, rinse bull kelp stipe in cold fresh water and rub off any debris or sand.
  • Cut stipe into ¼” rings
  • Cut onion into ¼” rings and cut rings in half
  • Combine kelp rings and onion in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and mix together to draw out liquid, add ice and mix again, keep in bowl while processing the rest of the steps (can leave this for as little or long as you wish, up to 3 hours, depending on how crispy you want the pickles – sometimes I skip this all together)
  • Combine your pickling brine- water, vinegar, sugar, and spices- in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil together for one minute.
  • Rinse salt soaked kelp and onions in freshwater and tightly pack them into the jar.
  • Pour hot pickling brine over the top of the kelp and onion rings and cover with a sterile lid.
  • Refrigerate for at least 48 hours before serving.

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Alanna Kieffer

Alanna is a marine science educator (owner of Shifting Tides NW) and seaweed farmer (Oregon Seaweed) based on the North Oregon Coast. She has worked in intertidal ecosystems for 12 years, teaching people about oceanography and ecology of the area. As an advocate for sustainable seafood, wild food, and with more experience working in coastal food systems, she began tying foraging lessons into her coastal education workshops, using wild food as another tool to connect people to the land they come from.

One thought on “How to Make Bull Kelp Pickles

  • Carrie Allton

    I just had kelp pickles in Alaska and they were so good. I live in Westport, WA and an interested in harvesting and pickling. Any tips on harvesting from the beach – do you usually go as the tide’s going out to ensure freshness?


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