A lot of people confuse moss and liches, but the truth is that both of them are very different. Basically moss is a plant, and they use photosynthesis to survive, just like any other plant mosses convert sunlight into energy. On the other hand, lichens are made of fungi and algae, these live in a symbiotic relationship with one another which allows them to survive.
Mosses use water and sunlight to survive, just like any other plant, and they are safe to eat. There are several edible mosses like the Reindeer moss, Iceland moss, Sphagnum moss, Oak moss, Spanish moss, Wila, Rock Tripe, and Kalpasi. Even if some mosses are considered edible you still could get sick due to cross-contamination and due to the toxic nature of some mosses and lichens.
If you are wondering what moss tastes like than my personal recommendation is to try Irish moss which is actually USDA certified Click here to check it out on Amazon.com
There might come a time where you have nothing to eat and you might be tempted to eat moss. The problem with eating moss is the same as eating most leaves, our body is simply not adapted to survive only on moss. Although vegans would probably disagree but they do eat a variety of plants which gives them all the nutrition their body needs. Moss doesn’t really have any substantial nutritional value, it has no fruit and it is mostly made out of micro leaves.
Moss doesn’t really have enough calories to keep you alive as you would need to eat a lot of it to get the necessary calories, but eating raw mosses is extremely hard on your body as we are not herbivores and our stomach is not made to digest and break down leaf matter as efficiently as herbivores do. On the other hand, some mosses are actually considered very healthy and even sold as a weight-loss supplement, like the Irish moss.
Even if the mosses don’t have plenty of calories they can still be a survival food as they do contain some vital minerals and vitamins like magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin B, Vitamin A and in some moss types even Vitamin K and Vitamin E. If you are in the woods without any food than you would probably be better off eating pine needles than moss, for more information check out my recent article Can you eat pine needles? ( Top 4 Edible Pine Needles ).
The reindeer moss is eaten by both caribou and reindeer, generally speaking, it grows in Canada and in tundra regions. The reindeer moss has been used also as medicine by natives for easing kidney pain and even to combat diarrhea. The natives used to make medicinal tea from it, although some would consume it after boiling it, and if you wonder how it tastes like after boiling then you probably won’t be surprised that it tastes awful and in some cases, it also produces a lot of stomach acid as the body will struggle to digest it. Eating moss is probably somewhat better than eating grass, for more information check out my recent article Can you eat grass to survive? ( Not so Fast ! ).
This moss is typically found in the northern parts of the world, both in Europe and North America. This “moss” is actually a lichen and it generally grows on rocks and stones at fairly high elevations. While you can safely eat Iceland moss in small quantities but if you eat them frequently you might get sick as depending on the area where you find them they might get contaminated by led.
In the US this moss is regulated and it is only allowed to be used in alcoholic beverages as flavor, although if you have ever tasted this moss then you probably know that the last thing you would want is for your alcoholic beverage to taste like the Iceland moss.
If you have ever watched a survival show where the survival expert was squeezing moss to drink water from it then the odds are they were using Sphagnum moss. This moss has excellent absorbing properties, it is not only good to get water from it but it also can be used to bandage wounds. This moss is fairly acidic which means that bacteria will have a hard time surviving, on the other hand, the moss might contain halophiles which will make you sick.
This moss can be a lifesaver as it has antiseptic properties, but only when it is fresh, in fact, this moss has been used during the first world war. This moss is great for filtering water, especially in a survival situation, for more information check out my recent article How long does it take to die from dehydration? ( Days or Weeks? ).
The Oak moss grows on the bark of the oak trees, it has been used for centuries as a medicine, although nowadays it is mainly used in the perfume industry. If you search around the web for oak moss health benefits than you will probably find a lot of sites promoting essential oils which contain oak moss, you should take these health benefits with a grain of salt. The truth is that this moss is actually a lichen which is considered to be toxic when eaten, so you will have to boil it several times before consuming.
On the other hand this moss is great for treating infections, due to its high acidity it will prevent the infection to spread.
This is another moss which is actually a lichen, although it can not be eaten as it will upset your stomach due to its acidity, but this lichen is great for treating wounds as it has antibacterial and even anti-inflammatory properties. The best way to consume this moss is to make tea from it, the Spanish moss tea has been used since a very long time to treat rheumatism, diabetes, and even aids new mothers produce milk.
Generally speaking, this moss grows on oak, pines, crepe-myrtle, and cypress trees.
Wila is actually considered to be a delicacy, and it was frequently used as a food source in the past. At this point, you will probably not surprised that this moss is actually a lichen, which mainly grows on dead or dying trees. Generally speaking, this lichen tends to grow on fairly elevated palaces in Northern America and you will most likely find it on branches. Identifying it is fairly easy as it does look like long hair, and in some cases, this can even grow several feet long.
Wila has been used as a medicine by the natives for a very long time, mainly to ease digestive problems but in some cases also to heal broken bones. Usually, Wila is dehydrated either on the sun or next to a fire and once the lichen is dry enough it starts to crumble then you can either just eat it or make a paste or powder form it and combine it with other dishes.
The Rock Tripe is usually found in North America and early settlers have used it as a food source during a famine, although that is not saying much as they ate everything on which they could get their hands on. The problem with Rock Tripe is that if you eat it raw you will get sick, and depending on your health condition it could even become life-threatening. People used to boil it several times before consuming it as this eliminates most of the toxins, although it also eliminates most of the nutrients as well.
In addition to being a food source during desperate times, this lichen also has some powerful effects when it comes to your immune system, although this mainly depends on your overall condition.
Kalpasi is mainly used as a spice, although it does have several health benefits like relieving pain, improving digestion, healing urinary tract infection and it is also used for treating wounds as it does have antibacterial properties. The Kalapsi is a lichen and it is also called the Black Stone Flower, generally speaking, it grows in the Northern and in the Southern hemisphere.
One of the problems with eating moss is cross-contamination, as moss generally speaking grows fairly close to the ground where they might be contaminated with animal droppings, and in a survival situation, this could lead to serious problems. If the area has rodents than the moss is probably contaminated with rat or mouse urine and fecal matter, in addition to this some bugs will lay their eggs on some types of mosses.
Moss can trap a lot of water inside of it, especially during the morning when the morning dew forms, so in theory, you could suck the water out of it but the issue of cross-contamination is still there and to be safe you would probably have to boil the water in addition to filtering it. Bacteria tend to thrive in stale water and the more humid the area is the better their chance of survival is which is not good news for you if you want to suck the water out of moss.
Although you can eat some types of mosses and lichens it is still not the best idea, identifying them correctly is fairly hard for the untrained eye and eating them raw or not preparing them might get you seriously ill and even worse.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, so make sure to check with your doctor or nutritionist before eating any type of moss or lichen.