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.