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Friday, November 9, 2012

Do You Have The Stomach For Moss and Lichens?


Well, winter is rushing toward us.  In northern latitudes, that generally means one to three feet of snow covering the ground, and almost every edible plant in the wild.  Desperate grazing wildlife like deer or bison, or even smaller rodents and birds are compelled to learn to dig through the frozen white for food.  It is a hard season for most animals.  That, unfortunately, includes humans that like to “eat wild.”
I have written about several sources of food in the wild during the winter, but there is one that I have not touched on, for any season: moss.
Most of us believe  that moss and lichens are not edible.  However, lichens make up a substantial part of the diet in the Arctic, and almost every moss and lichen is edible.  That does not imply that they are palatable, or nutritious, but most can, indeed, be eaten.  In fact, many ascribe medicinal properties to mosses, with the most prevalent claim being that they are antiseptic and some are analgesic.  Few studies have either confirmed or denied these claims.  In my experience, though, I have yet to find a “tasty” moss.  They are bitter, acidic tasting or, at best, bland.  But, as plants, they do have some vitamins, often contain minerals leeched from the soils or decay on which they grow, and  are a source of small amounts of chlorophyll. Taste be damned.  When desperate, eat!
There a couple of cautions, however.  Moss, due to its tight “leafy” nature, trap lots of insects, dirt and other undesirable debris.  If you like a bit of adventure with your meal, forego vigourous washing., and chew away!  Moss, as well, often grows, layer upon layer, on years or centuries of decaying moss and other plant material.  Along with unhealthy doses of rot, you are inviting bacteria and other pathogens into your palate.
In short, moss can be eaten, in an emergency, and can be found on tree trunks, rocks, and other exposed areas in the worst days of winter, so, as a survival food, they are welcome.  In any other circumstance, pass moss and lichens by.

6 comments:

  1. That is great. I saw lichen listed as a food and was surprised, and searhing for more info I found your blog. You are doing a great job, I find it an amazing blog, with many great surprises!

    Cheers,

    Leila

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  2. I eaten the standard blackish/grey rock lichen that grows near water. I followed some survival manual instructions that stated I should soak it in hot water, drain then boil.
    Let me tell you, boiled was terrible, fried (after boiling) with some garlic and salt... was terrible. Save your life? Maybe. Edible? Depends on what your definition of edible is. Tasty? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

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  3. 96% of lichen are not edible and 1 to 4% will kill you!

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    Replies
    1. Actually, the vast majority of lichens are not only not poisonous, but have been used medicinally for centuries. However, there are a few types (primarily the yellow lichens) that are poisonous. Many people whose constitution disagrees with a specific food call that food "poisonous," when,in fact they are intolerant of that food. Many fungi are examples. Honey mushrooms are well tolerated by most people, yet a significant number of people get severe gas from them. That does not make them poisonous. As to whether they are edible, I agree that many may be inedible for a lot of people, but I have eaten at restaurants where the food was largely inedible, too!

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  4. The yellow ones are poisonous and the writer is a little negligent with this article.

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  5. I am a writer doing research for accuracy in my stories, and I was wondering something. How long would you say someone could survive eating just moss?
    (The moss I chose for my story is acidic so it kills off the bacteria in the absorbed water)

    ReplyDelete