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Can You Eat Moss for Survival?

There are over 12,000 different species of moss and over 3,600 lichen species. The good news is that most mosses and/or liches are not poisonous. However, just because it is not poisonous doesn’t mean that either is a viable food source.

This article will investigate mosses and lichens and do the following:

  • List the Differences between Mosses and lichen
  • List edible moss and lichens
  • Where to look, in the wilderness, for either species
  • Give you references on the best way to cook lichen or moss

Are Lichen and Mosses the Same?

Lichen and moss are often thought to be the same thing. However, they are technically different. At first glance, it can be pretty confusing differentiating between the two as even some lichen, like Spanish Moss, is an actual lichen. Lichen and mosses are different based upon the following that is listed below.


Moss has been described as a fungi/Algae sandwich, and between the moss and the lichen, the moss is the simpler organism. Mosses are rootless organisms.


The lichen is a combination of fungus and algae that live symbiotically. (Symbiotic relationship can be described as when two different organisms work in a way that benefits both) As lichens are more complex, a lichen can also grow quite large.

What You Need to Know For This Article-Mosses and lichens are different. However, for survival, all you need to know is how to identify a specific moss species or lichen and know whether that species is edible or not.

Spanish Moss and Irish Sea Moss

The Spanish Moss and Irish Sea Moss aren’t categorized as mosses or lichens. Both, are often mistaken for mosses. Therefore, I include them in this article

Can You Eat Moss?

Most moss species and lichen are either edible or aren’t poisonous. But there are a few species of lichen that are poisonous, and I am showing them below.  I am only showing two potentially toxic lichens. However, there are a few poisonous lichen species. So, do not be lulled into a false sense of security because most lichens are safe. And, only consume lichen that you know is safe to eat.

Watch Out for These Poisonous Lichens

An example of one potential toxic and one that is absolutely poisonous is shown below:

Wolf Lichen

Wolf Lichen

The Deadly Wolf Lichen

The wolf lichen, AKA Wolf Moss-Letharia vulpina, is among the few poisonous lichen species. It is so poisonous that dried and powdered wolf lichen was used for poisoning bait and as a slug and snail insecticide.

Oak Moss

Per WebMD, oak moss is POSSIBLY SAFE when consumed for a short time and as for tea when consumed in small quantities. Oak moss does though contain the toxic substance thujone. Per WebMD, because of the thujone in the oak moss; oak moss is LIKELY UNSAFE if taken for a long time, in large quantities, and/or used in an alcohol extract.

Thujone-A thujone overdose can cause vomiting, dizziness, restlessness, confusion, and even kidney damage.

As any amount could be deadly, the Wolf Lichen is the deadliest of these two. Oak moss, on the other hand, per WebMD, is likely edible for a short time and in smaller quantities. To be safe, I would only consume oak moss in a true life or death survival situation.

Other Hazards That You Should Know About

Lichens, mosses, and pretty much any organisms are susceptible to pollution. For example, an edible moss might be contaminated with heavy metals. However, in a life or death survival situation, this will not matter. But, if you are collecting moss for non-survival situations this is something that you need to know.

Where Can You Find Lichens And/Or Mosses

Moss growth can be found in damp conditions, and in cold, humid areas. I.e., Rain forest, stream, rivers, lakes, etc. As for the lichen, they will grow on any stable surface. Some familiar places where you’ll see the lichen are on tree bark, rocks, soil, metals, plastic, and even mosses.

What Is the Nutritional Value of Mosses And/or Lichen and Other Moss Like Organisms?


Mosses aren’t valued that much for food. Instead, they are an excellent source of potable drinking water. For example, sphagnum peat moss is an excellent, potable water source. It is a safe water source because sphagnum moss sponges up rainwater, dew, etc. So, if you are low on the water, all you must do is pick up some moss, squeeze in and start drinking.


Some of the most popular lichens that have been foraged for both survival and medicine are Iceland Moss, Oak Moss, Reindeer moss, and Irish Sea Moss. I will list the nutritional value and other characteristics below.

Iceland Moss

Cetraria islandica.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

As you likely guessed, Iceland moss is found in Iceland. It is, however, also found in Europe, North America, and even Antarctica. Iceland moss is known for its medicinal properties and as a food source. Iceland is not known for having fertile farmland. As a result, to prevent starvation, Iceland moss was used as a reliable food source in around 874 AD. Therefore, you could theoretically live off this moss if properly prepared.

  • Type-Lichen
  • Appearance-It has varied colors ranging from yellow/green to dark gray-green
  • Geographical Location-Of course Iceland. Additionally, it can be found in the colder areas of the United Kingdom, Russia, North America, Scandinavia, and even Antarctica.
  • Environment-It thrives on the ground in cold weather in forests, mountains, and in extremely cold temperatures
  • Medicinal Use-Mouth and Throat Irritation, Appetite Loss, and for treating the Common Cold
  • Medically Proven-No
  • Nutrient Value- High amounts of iodine, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and other vitamins.

Oak Moss

Lichen foliacé2..JPG
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Oak moss is controversial as it is said to have several medicinal uses. However, as I said earlier if eaten in large quantities and not correctly prepared it can be toxic.

  • Type-Lichen
  • Geographical Location-Northern Hemisphere
  • Environment-Mountains
  • Medicinal Use-Helps with an upset stomach and various gastrointestinal matters.
  • Medically Proven-No
  • Nutrient Value-Mainly used for medicinal purposes

Reindeer Moss (AKA-Cladonia Rangiferina)

Reindeer moss

Reindeer Moss

Reindeer Moss is one of the most commonly eaten and seen lichens. It is used for both medicinal and various foods. Reindeer moss received its name as its branches resemble a deer’s antlers, and it is an abundant reindeer, food source. It also has various food uses like a soup and stew thickener.

  • Type-Lichen
  • Geographical Location-Commonly found throughout the Northern United States and Canada.
  • Environment-Found in woodlands that are white spruce and black spruce dominant.
  • Medicinal Use-It is has been used to treat various ailments like the common cold, fevers, arthritis, and other health problems.
  • Nutrient Value-High carbs and also a source of vitamin A and vitamin B

Moss Like Organisms-Commonly thought To be Moss or Lichens

Spanish Moss

Spanish moss

Spanish Moss


Spanish Moss isn’t a lichen or a moss. Instead, it is a bromeliad which is a budding or flowering plant with vascular tissues. It has no roots, and it gets its nutrients from water and nutrients from the air and rain. It is most often recognized from it hanging or drooping off of trees.

  • Type-Bromeliad
  • Geographical Location-A native plant species, in Southern United States, Mexico, Bermuda, Central America, and Bahama, and the West Indies.
  • Environment-It grows on large trees in tropic or sub-tropic environments
  • Medicinal Use-Used for arthritis either as a tea or to soak in during a bath.
  • Medicinal Proof-No
  • Nutrient Value-Protein, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C

Irish Sea Moss-Chondrus Crispus

Chondrus crispus

The red branched Irish Sea Moss (AKA-Irish Moss, or Sea Moss) isn’t a moss, lichen, or plant. It is actually a red seaweed or algae. It gets its Irish name because it was consumed by the Irish during the Great Potato Famine in the 1800s.  Nowadays, it is used for various foods like a vegan gelatin substitute and you can also buy an Irish Sea Moss Gel on Amazon.

  • Type-Seaweed
  • Geographical Location-Found near the coast of the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America
  • Environment-Near coastal waters
  • Medicinal Use-Per WebMD, as a vitamin source sea moss promotes heart health, reduce blood sugar and cancer prevention.
  • Nutrient Value-High sources of vitamin K, Iodine, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, and Folate

Moss and Lichen Consumption for Survival Situations


As stated earlier, mosses, especially sphagnum moss, can be an excellent source of safe drinking water as it is quite porous.

Moss For Medicinal Purposes

Various mosses have been used to help with many health issues with the most prominent being gastrointestinal issues.

How Do You Eat Moss And/Or Lichens for Eating?

Lichen and/or moss is best consumed when it can be properly prepared, and NOT eaten raw. The reason is that lichens have a 6% acidic content, and consuming the acids will severely upset your stomach.  Therefore, only in a life-or-death situation, and when you have no other options, should you be eating moss raw. However, when you can appropriately prepare lichens and related organisms, they can be a source of nutrients.

How Do You Prepare Lichens for Eating?

There are several recipes for preparing lichens for consumption. All the recipes I’ve seen involve mixing the lichen with water, baking soda, or some other substance, boiling, and repeating the process. Some of the lichens are mixed with substances are a 1% potash solution, baking soda, and wood ashes.

There is also a Chinese method that uses just water. However, that method takes over two days until completion. For further information on this, Click Here.

Irish Sea Moss-As Irish Sea Moss isn’t a lichen or a moss you can safely eat raw sea moss.

Is Moss Poisonous To Dogs?

Being a dog lover, I wondered if the typical green moss found around the lawn could be poisonous to my dog. The answer is that this green raw moss and other mosses will do the same thing to your dog as they can do to you; upset their stomachs.