Sinead O’Brien put aside a career in law to found Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co. She creates natural beauty products and top-quality super-foods, balancing business with the environment. We find out why this special sea-food is tipped to be the next big superfood.
Can you introduce us to Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co?
Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co. is all about the natural goodness of seaweed. Mungo Murphy is a fictional character that I created (although worryingly, he seems pretty real to me). He is the Connemara native who lives and breathes the sea and is fascinated by the almost magical, natural health and beauty powers of seaweed. As a result of his fascination (some might call it obsession), he spends his days eating seaweed, bathing in seaweed, scrubbing his face with seaweed and harvesting seaweed down by the sea in Connemara.
How do you go about sourcing your seaweed, what makes it unique, and do any environmental factors ever affect your business?
We source our seaweed locally in Rossaveal, Co. Galway in the west of Ireland. One of the reasons I set up the business is because my mother has an abalone aquaculture farm and has a foreshore license to collect seaweed in order to feed the animals, so my mother was my first supplier of seaweed. As demand for Mungo’s seaweed products has grown, I have started sourcing seaweed from other local seaweed harvesters (the real Mungo Murphy’s in this world!). It is important to me that the seaweed is harvested by hand and not by mechanised harvesters, which can over-exploit the resource and do damage to the environment. Another reason why I only source the seaweed locally is because I know that the water quality is very clean and that the seaweed is not contaminated with heavy metals. Seaweed can absorb heavy metals from polluted waters so it is extremely important that it be sourced from a clean environment.
It is important to me that the seaweed is harvested by hand and not by mechanised harvesters, which can over-exploit the resource and do damage to the environment.
Seaweed is tipped to become one of the most popular superfoods of 2016. Why do you think this is?
I would say because there has been more awareness of the health benefits of seaweed over the past few years. More studies are finding that certain kinds of seaweed are effective at lowering high blood pressure and at preventing and treating certain kinds of cancers. Seaweeds are highly nutritious; most species contain the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids. And seaweed is delicious – cooking with seaweed really enhances the flavours in your food, which is a major reason why I think it is being tipped to become one of the most popular superfoods of 2016, because when it is prepared properly, it is very tasty.
How do you go about ensuring your business is sustainable and environmentally friendly?
As mentioned above, I source the seaweed locally, which is very carbon efficient in that I’m not transporting the seaweed a great distance. The seaweed is hand-harvested and for the seaweed bath products, we make the most of the bad weather in the west and only collect drift that is freshly blown onto shore after a storm. Doing this allows us to make the most of the resource by preventing the seaweed from being left to rot and means that we cut seaweed less frequently. When we do harvest seaweed, we only cut from the top leaving enough of the seaweed frond (a leaf-like part of the plant) left for healthy growth. I also try to use as little packaging as I can to minimise waste and try to use recyclable and bio-degradable packaging where possible.
How do you go about turning seaweed into beauty products, and what are the benefits of using them?
As a consumer I was getting increasingly paranoid about the ingredients lists in various different skincare and beauty products, so when it came to creating the beauty products I wanted, the ingredients needed to be as simple and natural as possible. In making our beauty products, the seaweed goes through very few processes. Firstly, the seaweed is washed in filtered seawater – I didn’t want to lose any of the sea salt that fixes onto the seaweed when it dries. Then it is hung up in a green house tunnel to dry naturally by the sun and the air. I wanted to emulate the way seaweed dries on the beach at low tide, and when high tide comes around it bounces back to life. I found that this was the best way to dry the seaweed for it to retain its natural oils.
Seaweed has traditionally been used in Ireland to heal scars and for treating anything from eczema and psoriasis to arthritis and depression. It was referred to as “the poor man’s doctor”.
To me, the biggest benefits of using seaweed is that it is all natural and safe to use on my skin and I know that the seaweed is sourced from a clean environment. The next big benefit is that it is very effective at softening the skin, reducing inflammation and balancing skin tone. I have had customers e-mail me with delight that they have found the seaweed baths help with their fybromyalgia and that the seaweed bath and face mask has helped with their eczema. While I cannot make any medical claims, I can say that seaweed has traditionally been used in Ireland to heal scars and for treating anything from eczema and psoriasis to arthritis and depression. It was referred to as “the poor man’s doctor”.