Can you eat moss? Is moss a suitable food source?
The bushes were getting thicker as you brushed the branches aside, and made your way through the tropical rainforest. With each step, your anxiety heightened, and your heart pounded harder.
Earlier that day, you had begun the tour of the giant forest with your friends, and a native guide. The trip to the tropical rain forest was one you had looked forward to for weeks, and when it finally arrived, you couldn’t wait to explore the exotic trees and bird species. Your excitement had been evident to everyone including your designated forest guide.
“I should have listened to the old native,” you tell yourself, as you realize the fatality of your choice to run ahead of the pack.
With the afternoon slipping away and pangs of hunger chewing at your stomach, you suddenly began to wonder if the moss that stuck out from the trees was edible.
Was the risk of dying from hunger, bigger than the risk of taking something poisonous?
So what makes moss, and is it fit for human consumption?
What is moss?
You probably have an idea of what moss is, and can picture the green slimy stuff that grows on rocks by the river or on the bark of trees.
Well, mosses are plants, typically green in color, that grow in moist environments attaching themselves to rocks, trees or as undergrowth in wooded areas. Unlike other plants, they do not have roots, trunks or seeds and attach themselves to their hosts through the hairlike outgrowths called rhizoids.
They are flowerless plants that usually do not exceed a few centimeters in height. The green tiny leaf-like elements are called phyllids, and like other plants, they use photosynthesis to provide nutrients for their growth.
Where to find moss?
Moss can be found just about everywhere, and grow on lawns, forest floors, rocks, stones, wood and barks of trees. They grow on shady and moist surfaces, and will therefore not be found in dry and parched areas. They also do not grow in salty or polluted water, but rather in rocks or trees that are moist from fresh and clean water.
They can, therefore, be collected on soil, stones, rocks, caves, timber, dead trees and living trees.
Can I eat moss?
Moss grows as simple structures taking in freshwater and using the sun for photosynthesis to get their green coloring.
Pikas in wild natural habitats predominantly feed on moss, and after they have excreted, they would ingest it again to get better nutritional value. Pikas are small furry animals that resemble rabbits. They are mammals that have similar bodily functions to humans, and if their bodies can safely tolerate this meal, then they are fit for human consumption.
Scientists also recently discovered that moss has potential health benefits. The team of international scientists found that moss contains polysaccharides, which is made from sugar molecules similar to what is found in oats and cereals.
While they can be eaten, you need to understand the type and variety and where it is growing, as there are 12,000 different species.
How to identify different types of moss.
To identify the different types, you will need a hand lens or a microscope to pore into the often minute details and characteristics of these plants.
If SHTF, you will probably not have the benefit of a hand lens least of all a microscope. So how will you be able to identify the different types just by looking?
Moss is usually found either as sheet or mood types. Sheet moss covers wide flat areas forming a sheet or carpet-like mass, while mood moss grows in different clumps and clusters.
Let’s look at the different types of moss, and how you can identify them.
- Sphagnum species – This type is also known as peat moss and grows usually in acidic soils and marshy areas. They can be seen floating on ponds. Due to their exceptional water holding qualities, they have been used as diapers or bandages. They can hold up to 15 times their weight in water.
- Common Haircap – This is the tallest variety, growing to heights of above one foot. It is dark green and is common in humid areas that receive a lot of rainfall.
- Silky Forklet Moss – This is a yellowish-green type that grows in clumps to about 3 cm in height. It’s found in areas with acidic soil and grows on tree stumps and river banks.
- Swan’s-Neck Thyme Moss – This type is common in woodland areas, and grows in clumps to heights of 8 mm. They are mostly found on rotting logs and tree stumps and have a dull green color.
- Common Tamarisk Moss – They are found mostly in shaded woodland areas on trees, stumps, and deadwood. They grow in a heavy carpet-like mat and can cover the ground when they grow on soil.
- Glittering Wood Moss – similar to the Common Tamarisk Moss, they are heavy carpet-like moss that grows on wooded areas. They can get to as tall as 10 cm.
- Square Goose Neck Moss – This type grows in swampy areas and bogs, and can reach heights of half-a-foot long. The leaves form square shapes hence the naming of this type.
Most people assume that lichens are a type of moss. However, lichens are an algae and fungi composite, and are not plants. Though hard to tell apart, some lichens are also edible. Reindeer Moss is an edible lichen and is in the real sense, not a moss.
Are there some types of moss that are poisonous?
There are over 12,000 species of moss plants. Inevitably, some of the species will be poisonous if consumed by humans or animals.
While the majority are not poisonous, the habitat and growth conditions may also affect their composition, leading to certain harmful elements within the moss.
You may also find that eating moss may result in stomach upsets or other side effects, as human digestive systems have not adapted to its consumption.
How to harvest and eat moss.
Moss can be harvested using basic tools including trowels and kitchen flippers.
In the wild, where you may not have the luxury of tools, you can harvest using your bare hands.
Check out moist tree barks, stumps, and rocks along river beds or the banks of rivers. You can then gently pick the leaves of the moss, leaving out the rhizoids or roots on the host tree or rock.
If you are unable to separate the leaves from the rhizoids, try to separate them after picking, so that you are left with the green matter only for your meal, avoiding the brown or dark parts.
In selecting moss for consumption, look for green and fresh colored ones, and avoid the kind that is yellow or discolored that is probably overgrown. One of the best types that you can get for consumption is found on rocks underneath shallow flowing rivers.
Preparing a moss meal.
- Wash the green moss in water, and pound it using a smooth stick to form a consistent paste-like substance.
- Get wide leaves such as banana or plantain leaves, and place your moss inside.
- Seal the top with a grass strand or a string made from tree bark.
- Place next to a fire to bring the moss to a slow boil, and check that the leaf covering is not consumed by the fire.
- Eat the moss meal when it is sufficiently hot.
You can also eat raw moss, and it would be best washed clean to remove any decayed matter or harmful bacteria.
What are some other uses for moss?
Besides food, moss can be an extremely helpful survival item.
As it is found naturally and almost everywhere in abundant quantities, it is important to also learn about other possible uses of this micro-plant.
- Sphagnum moss was used during the first world war as bandages. Due to their liquid absorption qualities, they can help to prevent blood loss, and also can soothe infections as it contains some antibacterial properties.
- Sphagnum moss plants can also be used for water storage, due to their water retention capacities. This water can then be squeezed out for consumption when needed. Besides that, this type has anti-bacterial properties that will purify and make your water potable.
- Moss also contains a chemical compound that will warm your blood and could protect you from hypothermia. Scientific research on why animals in cold climates feed on moss showed that it contains arachidonic acid, which is a fatty acid that protects animals against cold weather.
- It also has insulation properties and can be used to insulate boots in cold climates and keep your feet warmer.
- Moss on the back of trees can also be useful in providing directions. As it only grows in moist environments, the side of the trees where moss grows can easily show you which side faces the sun, and which side doesn’t. This will give you a basic compass, which while not entirely accurate, can point you to the general direction that you need to be taking.
- Due to the liquid absorption qualities of certain moss types such as Sphagnum, it has also been used as diapers.
- Dry moss can be useful for lighting a fire when you need dry matter to stoke that flame into a viable fire.
- If you are in the wild and have built a makeshift structure, you can use layers of moss for roofing, to create a waterproof shelter due to its water retention ability. Besides, this natural roofing will create a good camouflage for your house offering more natural protection from predators.