30/08/2016 8:00 PM AEST | Updated 01/09/2016 4:19 AM AEST

Spirulina, The Health Food Supplement That's Basically Pond Scum

Drink up!

Spirulina is responsible for the bright green hue spiking our smoothie bowls, but it’s been around long before the healthy craze that’s taken over our Instagram feeds. Spirulina is said to have been harvested by the Aztecs in Mexico hundreds of years ago and it is an integral part of Central Africans who live off of Lake Chad. But do you know what it actually is?

If its fluorescent green color didn’t give it away, here it is: spirulina is microalgae. It’s basically pond scum. But it’s pond scum that has long been heralded by health food fanatics.

Spirulina processing plant in France.

While some ancient cultures have incorporated spirulina into their diets, the Western world wasn’t tuned into it until the 1960s when French botanist Jean Leonard rediscovered it. He found that a tribe near Lake Chad was in better health than others and observed that they consumed the algae. He linked to two together and shortly after, the first spirulina processing plant was set up by the French. At one point NASA even used it as a dietary supplement for astronauts in space.

Not enough research has been done on the health benefits of this algae, but the World Health Organization has acknowledged it as a vitamin and protein rich supplement. And the FDA states that it contains high levels of calcium and iron. There are some warnings, however. Spirulina stimulates the immune system, so those with autoimmune diseases should not take it. Before adding a supplement to your diet, it’s best to consult with a doctor.

And whatever you do, don’t head down to your local pond to harvest some yourself.

You can give spirulina a try in your next smoothie bowl. We have some recipes to help you do that.