Can You Actually Eat Moss? It Depends…

In a survival situation, the rule of thumb is that you have to make use of what resources you have in it. This sentiment certainly applies to food.

When it’s time to eat, you are eating what there is to eat, not what you like, not what you prefer, and not what would be best. Most environments can provide us with at least something to eat if we know where to look and if we know what is safe.

photo: Bob via Flickr

One kind of plant life that you’ll find in abundance pretty much everywhere on Earth is moss. Sounds like an ideal resource, in a way! But the question is… can we actually eat it?

Yes, you can eat moss safely. No known type of moss is overtly poisonous, but moss offers very little in the way of nutrition or calories to help keep you alive. It can stave off hunger, though.

The good news is that most kinds of mosses are safe to eat in a survival situation. The bad news is they aren’t going to do much to provide you with the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay alive and keep working toward rescue or escape.

That said, they are a legitimate resource even if they’re a marginal one, and it’s in your best interest if you know how to make use of them. Read on and we’ll get into it!

Most Known Mosses are Non-Toxic

When you’re considering moss as a survival food, it is comforting to know that most varieties, wherever they grow, are non-toxic. This means that the chances of you grabbing moss, scarfing it down, and getting poisoned are very low, statistically. I wouldn’t say non-existent, but low.

Pretty much wherever you happen to be in the world anywhere in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, or elsewhere, and whatever the environment, there will be non-toxic mosses there that you can make use of.

The trick, of course, is positively identifying which ones are safe, or rather I should say which ones are beneficial, so you can prioritize them.

Most Moss Offer Little in the Way of Nutrition

So moss is plentiful, grows pretty much everywhere, and can be found in abundance. That’s definitely what we want to hear when we’re considering a survival food, but when you assess Moss as a food it leaves a whole, whole lot to be desired.

For starters, moss is extremely low in calories, and it’s also difficult to digest compared to other greenery that we might forage. It’s also very low in protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. It just does not offer much in the way of nutrition, at least not for humans; we aren’t adapted to subsist on it.

Don’t get me wrong, you can eat moss safely in most circumstances and get at least some energy and essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs in order to function.

But you would have to eat tons and tons of it to have anything even approximating your daily requirements for optimum health, or even the bare minimum needed to avoid starvation.

Even if it’s not doing much good, it can help you psychologically to keep your head in the game by damping down hunger pains, at least for a time. Moss is also useful for “bulking up” a relatively meager meal of other foraged or hunted edibles.

Eating Raw Moss Can Expose You to Dangerous Germs

Now, just because most kinds of moss aren’t explicitly poisonous that doesn’t mean there are no safety issues associated with eating it.

Moss typically grows on rocks, trees, and various other surfaces, and being a low-growing creeping sort of vegetation it is constantly exposed to all the usual germs that we find out in the wild, particularly when it grows in a very damp environment.

For this reason, this isn’t something that you just want to pick and eat if you can avoid it. I know: much of the time in a survival situation you’ve got to do what you have to, and if you are desperate for food you might have to take the chance.

Just know that doing so is going to expose you to those aforementioned germs, and any number of them could make you violently ill.

A better approach is to quickly cook the moss by boiling it or steaming it if you can. You must take care when roasting it or pan-frying it, though, because it is so delicate and ephemeral it can basically disintegrate.

But, there’s another downside: cooking moss, even gently and quickly, will reduce its already meager amount of nutrition to next to nothing.

Another concern is that moss, like most plants, can absorb harmful chemicals and compounds from the surrounding area, meaning you will be consuming them in kind if you eat them.

Like I said, it’s hard to make moss work as a legitimate survival food!

Some of the More Nutritious “Mosses” are Actually Lichens

But it isn’t all bad news with moss, at least for a given category of what we call moss. There are many sorts of “mosses” out in the world, some of them so named, that are actually lichens.

Lichens aren’t moss. Instead, they are sort of a composite organism consisting of certain types of fungi and bacteria or algae living in a colony, providing structure for one another and also resources for one another in a sort of symbiosis.

Lichens have much more to offer nutritionally, including protein and carbs, but they have some downsides of their own. For starters, many of them are quite difficult to digest, acidic, and can be really hard on your stomach if not specially prepared.

That being said, lots of different lichens are actually cultural foods still eaten around the world today, so there’s a strong precedent for human consumption.

Learning how to identify and make use of lichens should definitely be a priority over mosses if you want to add interesting vegetation to your survival toolbox.

What are Some Edible Moss Varieties?

The valuable edible “mosses” you should look out for as survival food are listed briefly below:

Wila: grows throughout North America on conifer trees, typically between 1,000 and 3,000 feet in elevation. Long, stringy, dark brown. Has long been used as a staple food and still eaten today. Should be soaked and then steamed prior to eating.

Iceland Moss: common in North America, Iceland, and Europe, typically grows in mountainous terrain. Usually a medium brown color, contains lots of starch and calories. Traditionally used in breads and as a thickener in other dishes.

Iceland moss preparation and cooking.

Spanish Moss: abundant and common throughout the American South, grows in long, beard-like formations on trees. Mostly inedible, it’s possible to boil it into a sort of broth to extract nutrients from it.

Reindeer Moss: grows around the world in Northern hemisphere, particularly in very cold regions. Has peculiar, forked appearance that makes it look like antlers. Highly acidic, should be boiled until soft before being eaten.

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