Can You Eat Moss – How to Spot and Cook Edible Moss

Foraging moss for consumption is a good survival skill. It’s an excellent source of protein and water.

There are 7 types of edible moss that can be identified by familiarizing yourself with their striking characteristics. Moss can be eaten raw, boiled, or pan-fried.

It’s important to correctly identify moss before eating one. There are many toxic or inedible species that should be avoided. The best way to identify moss is to bring a printed guide with you that indicates their characteristics, habitat, and even photos to see what they look like.

What Is Moss?

moss tree

Mosses are green plants that grow on other plants or even rocks. They thrive in moist surfaces like tropical rainforests or shaded areas. They are unique plants because they don’t have a vascular system. This means that they  lack roots, trunks, or branches to absorb and transport water and nutrients, to the rest of the plant.

Where Can You Find Moss?

Moss can be seen almost everywhere because they don’t require strict conditions to thrive. The most common spots include forest floors, rocks, stones, barks of trees, and wood or among shady and moist areas. So, it’s unlikely to find them in dry and well-lit areas because those locations won’t have enough water and have too much sunlight.

Moss requires clean, running fresh water, and fails to grow in dirty or polluted areas.

Types Of Edible Moss

Reindeer Moss

box green moss

Reindeer moss is also known as caribou moss and grows up to an inch tall. It’s gray in appearance and has numerous reproductive branches with red tips. From a distance, this type of moss looks like a bunch of flowers.

Reindeer moss is particularly rampant in Canada and other tundras. You can find it thriving over thin layers of soil or on top of rocks. But, it can also survive in a wide range of habitats, so you can see it in both hot and cold, humid and dry, closed and open forests.

It SHOULD NOT be eaten raw as it contains rock dissolving acids. The best tip is to boil it until it is soft and then eat it. The boiled moss can also be mixed with berries, lard, or fish eggs to improve the texture and flavor.

This moss type can also be crushed and boiled to make reindeer moss tea, a herbal drink traditionally used to treat kidney stones and diarrhea.

Spanish Moss

trimming out moss

The Spanish moss is also known as the beard lichen. It thrives in a warm and humid climate and is rampant in sunny or partially shaded areas located in the Southeastern United States to Argentina.

You can identify it through its slender stem that contains thin and curly scaled leaves that measure 2 to 6 centimeters long. It grows in a distinct chain-like fashion that sets it apart from the other plants. It is propagated through the spreading of its leaves and seeds, which may happen when it is blown by the wind or when carried to different locations by pollinators, like birds.

This plant barely has any nutritional value and caloric content. It’s not the best plant to eat, but it can suffice during survival situations. In addition, it is excellent for medical use. It has a long history of medical applications, like aiding the flow of breast milk among pregnant women, making delivery of a child easier, treating rheumatism, treating infantile epilepsy, acting as an estrogen substitute, and managing glucose levels.

Oakmoss

close up moss

This is another edible lichen that is frequently used to make perfumes but can be eaten during survival situations. It is characterized by the distinct pale gray color with hints of green on its body and can also appear yellow-green when wet. It has a rough texture when dry and feels rubbery when wet.

The branches are pointy and may grow around 3 to 8 centimeters long. Oakmoss also has thalli that grow 3 to 4 centimeters in length. The thalli are very bushy and grow branched, much like deer antlers

The oakmoss can be found in different temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere, like Spain, North America, Portugal, and France. It grows on the bark and branches of most deciduous trees like fir and pine; you can see them grow in large clumps on these surfaces

Iceland Moss

This lichen appears erect and upright and has distinctive leaflike features unlike any other moss. You can identify this through its pale chestnut shade which may sometimes become greyish-white. This moss grows up to 3 to 4 inches tall, with channeled or rolled branches. Another distinctive feature is the flattened lobes with fringed edges located at the tips of the branches.

Iceland mosses are abundant in the mountainous forests in northern countries, like Wales, England, Ireland, and Scotland. It’s named as such because it is particularly abundant in the north and west of Iceland.

The entire plant is edible. It has a bitter, astringent taste but  can be removed  through boiling  in water with baking soda. It can also be stored for many years if boiled in lye water. Further, it can be used as an ingredient for bread and salads.

Rock Tripe

This is named as such because it grows abundantly on the surfaces of rocks. It can also be seen it in open woods, cliffs, and moist areas. Rock tripe is very abundant in North America and New England. It’s an edible moss that was even consumed by American northern explorers many centuries ago.

You can identify rock tripe by their circular and flat shape that may be smooth or covered in blisters. Another distinctive feature is that their centers are attached to rocks, particularly non-calcareous or granite rocks.

Rock tripe’s color ranges from grey to black or dark brown, with the attached underside a darker shade with a velvety texture. This moss feels leathery and rubbery to the touch but gets significantly softer once prepared and cooked.

The moss is edible but it has to be correctly processed before you can eat it. Eating it raw can result in extreme side effects such as bowel issues and nausea. To prepare, simply boil it in some water and baking soda. You can also throw in other lichen spices to improve its taste. Make sure to exclude the base of the moss, which is the one attached to the rocks, because these parts may be filled with soil, dirt, and other inedible objects.

After boiling, slowly pan-roast the moss until it becomes crisp and dry. Then, throw the dried pieces into a pot of boiling water and allow it to boil for another hour. This moss is reported to taste good. You can eat it on its own or throw it into soup or pudding.

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum Moss is a good survival food because of its spongy structure and ability to hold a lot of water. It has always been eaten by survivalists to combat dehydration by squeezing the water out into your mouth

Sphagnum moss is commonly found in wet and boggy areas, preferably those with low pH or highly acidic soil. It can’t be found in woods or in water that has lime. This type of moss grows in small patches of thick and dense clumps. This type of moss  grows so close together that it forms a bog mat that floats on top of the water.

The mat is so closely knit and durable that it can support the weight of a heavy moose. The roots are very shallow and the leaves are tiny. This moss grows no taller than 4 inches and is usually in the color light green, yellow, pink, brown, or deep red.

How To Prepare And Cook Moss

cooked moss

Harvesting The Moss

First, go to a location where moss is abundant. Moss is found in a wide range of habitat but is unlikely to grow in dry surfaces exposed to direct sunlight. You’ll find them under rocks, in damp corners, in shaded areas, and in other cracks where water may pass through. They’re more likely to grow in undisturbed areas.

Next, make sure you have properly identified the type of moss. Don’t harvest the moss if you’re not sure of its classification because it might be poisonous or inedible. You can identify if the moss is edible by bringing with you reference photos, with a list of their striking features.

Prepare some tools that you can use to harvest the moss. Use thin and durable scraping tools like a spatula or a knife to lift the moss from the surface in sheets. Dust off any dirt or soil that is attached to the bottom of the moss. You may also cut them off if the moss grows in colonies or clumps.

Avoid moss colonies that look decayed. Decay is characterized by black or brown parts with a foul odor and slimy to the touch. No amount of cooking or preparation can make these parts safe to eat.

Preparing And Cooking The Moss

It’s important to prepare and cook the moss to get rid of any excess acidity or weird taste. The most popular way to prepare moss is by boiling it for 20 to 30 minutes until it becomes soft. You may season the moss with lard or other seasonings to make it more palatable.

Another option is to pan-fry the boiled moss so that it becomes crunchy, chewy, and delicious.