6 Edible Mosses and Lichens You Can Forage in the Wild

Mosses are a proper little wonder plant that has a lot of useful properties, such as helping someone to find true north, purify water, build a shelter, or even as a topical wound healer.

But is moss edible?

Yes! Many mosses and lichens are actually edible, and if prepared correctly can make for a pretty tasty (or at least nutritious) side dish.

Our extensive guide on edible mosses will take you through the ins and outs of where to find these plants, how to harvest and prepare them as well as which mosses to better avoid.

Are mosses safe to eat?

The mosses described in this article are safe to eat if you put a little bit of time into the preparation and make sure you have identified the right species. Also, if you want to be perfectly safe, never eat them raw.

6 Most Common Species of Edible Moss

This plant thrives in shaded and moist areas across the globe and can be found on rocks, logs, the ground, and even on trees.

Below, you will find a list of edible moss and how to identify and prepare them and any other potential benefits there are to these little soft wonder plants:

1. Spanish Moss

Contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss is not actual moss but a flowering plant that is found growing on Oak or Cypress trees in Southeast US, Central America, Mexico, South America, the West Indies as well as the Caribbean.

Usually growing in full sun to partial shade, this plant will hang in about 20 feet long strings from these trees and produces tiny green, yellow and brown flowers.

Spanish moss also grows on sweetgums, crepe myrtle, and pine trees but prefers oak and cypress trees because of the minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, which they leak into the soil.

How to prepare:

Make tea or syrup by steeping Spanish moss into boiling water. Add sugar as preferred. Now you can either drink the liquid or reduce it further to make syrup.

Other properties:

  • Medicinal Purposes
    • Heals skin issues
    • Can be used as a painkiller
    • Reduces fever
    • Helps to lower blood sugar
    • Antibiotic properties
    • Lactation stimulation for nursing mothers
    • Helps with diabetes
    • Fights infantile epilepsy
    • Helps with rheumatism

2. Oakmoss

This moss is grey to light green in color and has a branchy texture.

As the name already suggests, Oakmoss can mainly be found on the trunk and branches of oak trees, but also on pine and fir trees, across the cooler regions of the US, Canada, and Northern Europe. If the winds blow too strong, causing the oak moss to fall off, it can roll on the ground and appear like tiny tumbleweeds.

How to prepare:

Do not eat oakmoss raw – the acids in this lichen are moderately toxic if eaten raw.

In order to remove the acids properly, boil this moss twice while exchanging the water in between. Then, we recommend frying it in a pan with oil and adding herbs, salt, and other spices.

Other properties:

  • Used for the perfume industry (fragrant, woody scent)
  • Healing properties
    • Infections
    • Surface wounds

3. Reindeer Moss

Reindeer moss is actually a lichen that appears gray with red tips on its branchy structure, which makes it look a little bit like a flowering plant from further away. It usually grows on a layer of soil on top of rocks.

This one-inch tall moss is also known as Caribou moss and is used by both namesake animals as a primary food source. Due to this, you will also find Reindeer moss primarily in the Canadian boreal forests as well as across the Tundra.

How to prepare:

You are able to eat Reindeer moss raw, however, the acids in the moss can cause a bit of an upset stomach if you have a sensitive gut.

The best is to put it into boiling water until soft in texture and then mix it with the food of your choice for a bit of texture and taste. This can be berries, lard, or even fish eggs.

You can also crush it for medicinal tea.

Medicinal properties:

  • Used to relieve kidney stones
  • Eases diarrhea

4. Kalpasi

This moss grows in the Asian Northern and Southern hemispheres. You can identify Kalpasi by its about seven inches of greenish-gray long lichen structures and the broad brown-edged leaves with a black base.

How to prepare:

Dry this lichen and then cook it with a little bit of oil to add it to your regular food. Kalpasi is most frequently used as a spice mix with other Indian spices such as cardamom, curry, star anise, cumin, or cinnamon.

Other properties:

  • Antibacterial
  • Improves digestion

5. Iceland Moss

Even though mostly found on mountain ranges in Iceland (hence the name) you will also be able to find Iceland moss in similarly elevated areas in North America and Europe.

You will be able to identify Iceland moss by its chestnut color and its four inches long growth. It usually starts to roll about halfway up the branch.

This lichen is very starchy and therefore makes a great replacement for starches in meals. While it is rarely used as a food source these days, the local natives used to eat this moss frequently as a source of starch.

How to prepare:

You can safely eat Iceland moss without much preparation, but there are several ways to prepare it if you don’t want to eat moss raw.

Grind Iceland moss in order to use it in your porridge or for baking bread.

When boiled, it makes a wonderful addition to soups.

Other properties:

  • Medicinal purposes of extracted acids:
    • Helps with constipation
    • Helps with chest ailments

6. Wila

This is one of the most commonly used lichens for eating and is found in Northern America in abundance.

You will be able to find Wila or Witch’s Hair hanging from conifer trees in the Rocky Mountains region in an elevation between 1,000 and 2,500 feet and identify this edible moss by its dark brown color.

This moss grows anywhere from 10 inches to 4 feet in length and prefers dead or dying trees as its home base.

This edible moss used to be a basic food source by local natives, but is now considered a delicacy and is quite tricky to harvest, due to its height in the trees. Harvest time is usually around the month of July.

In order to harvest it successfully, take a long stick, jab it into the lichen and twist it around, then bring it down.

How to prepare:

Before you start preparing your Wila, have a little taste to make sure you have harvested the right eating moss. If the taste is too bitter, you might have harvested the wrong species.

To identify edible moss make sure that the taste does not throw you off too much, if something tastes too bitter it usually is a good indicator that you shouldn’t be eating it.

Start by leeching the acid and then steaming it in the ground. Then, let it soak overnight, ideally in running water. Beating the fibers with a stick will loosen up the structure and also help release the acids that can cause stomach aches.

Once this is done, dig a pit in the ground and get a fire going at the bottom. Place rocks on top of the fire and layer a bit of vegetation atop. Mix your Wila with veggies and some meat (if you like) and then spread it across the constructed pit. Add more vegetation and a layer of burlap.

Extinguish the fire in the pit and cover everything with a layer of dirt. Start a fire on top of this heap and let it burn for anything between 12 to 72 hours – slow cooking in nature!

For those that are a bit in a hurry, you can simply prepare Wila by itself over a hot stone or a fire. Just make sure to flip it regularly until it is hard and dry.

If cooked this way by itself, without veggies or meat, your finished product will resemble a form of dough and can be mixed with berries, sugar, cream, or even some fish eggs to add flavor.

If you haven’t used all of your product, knead the “dough” into a flat shape and let it dry. Now you have dried-up Wila cakes which will last you for days and can serve as perfect survival food. Eat this either in dry form, crumble it to make porridge, or even rehydrate it to eat.

Other properties:

  • Medicinal Purposes
    • Digestive aid
    • Relief for broken bones
    • Reduces swelling
    • Removes warts
    • Eases arthritis
    • Wound healing

Which moss is not edible?

Technically, there isn’t any one moss that is completely inedible, at least to humans, because there is no poisonous moss. That said, some people don’t have a strong stomach to tolerate the amount of acid in some species of moss.

Generally, if your moss tastes a bit too bitter – refrain from eating it.

Seeing as there are about 12,000 different species of moss, it is good to know that most moss is actually edible. While some people only eat moss raw, most moss is better prepared and then enjoyed, simply because the last thing you want is an upset stomach when you are out in the wild.

Is eating moss good for you?

A lot of native people eat moss for its medicinal or nutritional value and therefore it definitely has several properties and health benefits that can be good for your body or digestive system.

Some medical or nutritional advice on the side: eating moss raw in large quantities can lead to some serious upset stomach side effects, due to the high culmination of acid in this plant.

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