Can you eat moss? Yes, but it isn’t highly recommended and can be dangerous! Humans have used mosses for millennia to determine direction, insulate structures, locate water sources, disinfect foul water and soil, combat soil erosion, for some health benefits, and yes – to eat.
But what kind of moss can you eat?
Keep reading to learn more about the potential benefits of eating moss, which edible mosses are best for human consumption, how to cook with moss, and which mosses to avoid due to possible toxicity.
Five minutes from now, you’ll understand more about edible mosses, moss foraging, and edible moss varieties.
So, let’s jump in!
- What Is Moss?
- 4 Edible Types of Mosses
- More Mosses You May Find While Foraging
- Can You Eat Sea Moss?
What Is Moss?
Mosses and lichens often grow alongside one another, and many people confuse the two. However, they couldn’t be much different!
According to the National Park Service (NPS), mosses (bryophytes) are plants that develop stems and leaves, although they are often too small to discern with the naked eye. Mosses contain chlorophyll and are directly photosynthetic.
According to Britannica, there are currently more than 12,000 known moss species. They grow all over the planet, especially in water-rich areas with moderate sunlight. For species propagation, mosses produce spores instead of seeding flowers.
Mosses do not produce roots! Instead, they grow tiny root-like components called rhizoids. Rhizoids allow moss to affix itself to whatever it’s growing on. Because it lacks roots, it can’t absorb subsurface water. That’s why moss tends to thrive best in well-saturated spots where surface moisture is plentiful.
However, some moss species cultivate in burning-hot deserts. It’s everywhere!
Moss vs. Lichen: How to Differentiate Them
The Australian National Herbarium (ANH) says lichens don’t get classified as plants. They are genetic combinations of one or two fungi and either photosynthetic cyanobacterium or algae.
Lichens do not produce stems or leaves. Like mosses, lichens are sporophytes. So, they make spores instead of seeds for reproduction.
It gets even more confusing! Some lichens are commonly called mosses – like Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) and oak moss (Evernia prunastri), or reindeer mosses (Cladonia rangiferina), for instance.
Unlike most mosses, lichens can thrive very well in water-poor environments like deserts and tundra. Lichens do not contain chlorophyll. And thereby do not perform direct photosynthesis.
Instead, their non-fungal components, called photobionts, perform indirect photosynthesis, while their fungal elements (mycobionts) protect the photobionts from harsh environmental conditions.
OK, enough with the botany! Let’s discuss whether it’s good to eat moss – or not.
Can You Eat Moss?
Maybe the question should be, “Can you eat moss safely?”
Of course, you CAN eat moss, but given that there are more than 12,000 known species, it makes sense that some of them are toxic and SHOULD NEVER get eaten.
However, others can and regularly get eaten by humans – and have for a very long time.
Moss could be a vital ally in the future, and even if food shortages don’t turn out to be THAT serious, it never hurts to know about healthy alternative foods.
So, how do you know which types of moss are safe to eat for people?
What If You’re In a Survival Situation? What Moss Would You Eat Then?
It is never safe to consume unknown plants. Period! So, we would only advise the following section if you ever get stranded on an island without a food source. (Seriously. Too many foragers get sick – or worse – experimenting with unknown plants. Never do it!)
The best way is to positively identify and harvest a species that’s already proven safe. And on that note, even if you recognize a moss species and have even eaten it before, it’s critical to consider the possible toxicity of the precise location and Bryophyta cultivar you’re considering harvesting.
In other words, if the terrain, water, tree, rock, or other material you find moss on is toxic for any reason, you don’t want to eat moss from it, even if it is a species known to be safe for consumption.
But what moss varieties are edible? Can you eat moss raw if it has a green color?
Always remember the globally accepted method for testing field plants for safe edibility. Only consider the following if you’re 99% sure the plant is safe – and only if you get stranded on an island without food.
- Harvest a small amount of the plant.
- Boil it in clean water.
- Let it boil gently for a couple of minutes.
- Strain it, and then rinse it with clean water.
- Repeat the entire process.
Once done, you can sample a small amount of the plant. Then, wait for an hour or so to see if you begin to notice any ill effects. If you don’t, it’s likely safe to try eating a bit more. And after that, if you’re still feeling good after an hour or so, you can consider this plant to be generally safe for you to eat.
Remember that the above is only a way to test foods if you’re in a survival situation and if you can already identify the plant. It’s always better to know that the plant you’re eating is safe due to centuries of widespread human consumption!
What Are the Benefits of Eating Moss?
Let’s differentiate between eating mosses that you find on land and those from the sea. From a nutritional viewpoint, sea moss is a different ball game. And we will address the many moss nuances below.
This section addresses the nutritional value and possible benefits of eating land moss.
So, the nutritional profile of safe edible mosses includes the following.
- Very low in calories
- Good source of fiber
- Water-rich food source
- Decent amino acid source
- Vitamins A, B, E, and K
- Iron, iodine, zinc, and magnesium
OK, let’s get right into some of the known-to-be-safe edible mosses that have helped people stay hydrated and healthy for a long time.
(We hope you brought an appetite.)
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4 Edible Types of Mosses
The following are four types of edible mosses that you can eat without worrying about sickness or toxicity. (Well – without worrying too much.)
Please be clear about your identification process before eating any moss. Double-check (and triple-check) with a relevant field guide, and test every field food thoroughly before consuming it.
Also, when it comes to generally safe food sources, there’s still danger for some people. Some homesteaders will always be allergic to foods that most others are not. Be careful!
1. Irish Sea Moss (Chondrus crispus)
Irish sea moss is among our favorite edible mosses and deserves the top spot on our list. Not only is Irish sea moss an excellent smoothie ingredient, but it’s arguably the best-documented edible moss with potential health benefits.
We even read an excellent article about sea moss in Discover Magazine. Their guide mentions that Irish sea moss is an excellent iodine source and is also popular in stews and soups.
Irish sea moss also boasts a wide array of potential health benefits, including Parkinson’s disease prevention and immune system boosting, according to WebMD.
For those reasons, it’s our favorite edible moss for snacking. No doubt!
Pros of Irish sea moss:
- Arguably the best-documented health benefits of any edible moss on our list.
- Excellent taste.
Cons of Irish sea moss:
- Hard to find for inland homesteaders – not all of us have boats or fancy diving gear! (Or access to sea rocks.)
2. Gold Moss (Sedum acre)
Gold moss is a lovely perennial succulent reaching approximately three inches high. It loves growing with full sunlight and well-drained soil.
Gold moss isn’t as popular as Irish sea moss as a culinary ingredient. Nor could we find as much data about eating gold moss – or gold moss foraging.
However, at least a handful of reliable sources concur with us and say that gold moss is safe to eat – at least in small quantities.
We also read from the Washinton State County Extension that gold moss makes an excellent rock garden addition. Sounds good to us!
Pros of gold moss:
- Excellent hardiness and survivability.
- A lovely-looking rock garden addition.
Cons of gold moss:
- Bad taste.
- You may get stomach cramps if you overindulge.
3. Horsehair Lichen (Lichen B. fremontii)
We realize that horsehair lichen is not technically moss! But horsehair lichen is another edible forage crop that deserves a spot on our palatable moss list.
It was once famous for serving as a reliable food crop for Washington and British Columbia natives. But beware! We also urge caution to anyone foraging for horsehair lichen – as not all of the horsehair lichen you find is safe to eat.
(Lichen B. tortuosa, or yellow horsehair lichen is toxic. Lichen B. fremontii, or dark-brown horsehair lichen, is considered less toxic. However, even grizzled foragers may have trouble distinguishing between lichens, so we advise against foraging for them.)
Pros of horsehair lichen:
- A long history of edibility.
Cons of horsehair lichen:
- Beware of toxic lookalikes! Too easy to confuse safe vs. unsafe varieties.
4. Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune)
Haircap is one of the easiest edible mosses to identify in the field. Known as Polytrichum commune to nerds like me, its top view looks like well-organized pillows of tiny space constellations. When viewed sideways, each stem looks like a little Christmas tree. Each dark-green/blueish stem grows up to 15 inches (40 cm).
Although this easy-to-spot forage moss lacks any praise-worthy nutritional value, it can supply fiber, water, and trace amounts of various minerals and vitamins.
Like most other edible mosses, haircap is acidic and can taste bitter unless you boil it. We advise doing so at least twice, using fresh, clean water each time. You can use haircap just like other edible moss varieties. Try it in bread, tea, salad, and more.
Pros of haircap moss:
- Easy for North American foragers to locate.
Cons of haircap moss:
- Haircap moss is one of the least well-documented edible mushrooms on our list. We couldn’t find many reliable sources citing its edible nature.
More Mosses You May Find While Foraging
We have tons of experience foraging for spores, mushrooms, lichens, and moss! So we amassed a guide of other popular moss cultivars you may encounter while exploring.
(Some of these may technically be edible. But – we could not find any safety or nutritional information. Nor could we find studies advocating the benefits of the following moss varieties. So – proceed with caution!)
1. Sphagnum Peat Moss (genus Sphagnum)
Sphagnum moss commonly called peat moss or simply “peat,” is an entire genus of plants, not a single species. The Sphagnum genus includes at least 380 different species. Peat moss can retain large amounts of water, making it a go-to survival food for anyone requiring hydration.
In cooking, Sphagnum moss works as a substitute for wheat flour. Culinary-prone homesteaders may find it in homemade bread and other baked goods. Sphagnum moss can also get used for extending limited flour rations by combining the two. It can also be mashed into a paste and used as a cornmeal substitute.
Note that peat moss is acidic and has a bitter, earthy flavor, but the bitterness can be reduced by repetitive boiling and using clean water each time. Some of our holistic colleagues swear that its acidic properties may help treat acne and ringworm. Some homeopaths also tout it as an antibacterial and a water-purifying substitute for chlorine.
(However, we couldn’t find any reliable studies signifying that sphagnum moss is safe to eat – or that it benefits those who consume small amounts.)
2. Swan’s Neck Thyme Moss (Mnium hornum)
This grey-green plant moss thrives best in heavily wooded regions. It grows in clumps up to about 1/3 of 1 inch high, and you can easily find it on rotting logs, the bark of trees, downed trees, and other rich, moist, organic substances. It also tends to grow well on rocky ledges with high acidity.
In the past, swan’s neck thyme moss got used for filling mattresses. Homesteaders back then believed that this edible moss plant helped to improve sleep. Mnium hornum contains seven unique fatty acids. One of them is called arachidonic acid, and it’s reputed to boost immunity and reduce systemic inflammation.
This edible plant moss can get used in baking, boiled and added to salads, dried and used as a garnish, or seeped to make tea. Of course, you’re free to get creative and use it as food any way you like. It’s your culinary forage moss. And you can eat it however you wish!
3. Silky Forklet Moss (Dicranella heteromalla)
Dicranella heteromalla, or silky forklet moss, is a green to yellow clumping moss. It grows up to about 1.2 inches or 3 cm. It tends to thrive best in acidic soils, along riverbanks, and on tree stumps. But foragers may find it in various other locations as well.
Each clump of this edible forage moss is small, and it’s tricky to collect enough to make up a good portion size for eating. However, if you can find it and gather enough to work with, after a couple of boils, it’s said to have a milder taste than many other edible mosses.
And again, use it however you like in your food. Don’t let anybody tell you how to eat your delectable garden moss!
Can You Eat Sea Moss?
Yes! And it seems to have some nutritional promise.
We read a fascinating report on Healthline about seaweed and sea moss. Their research suggests that seaweed (and moss) may benefit weight loss, blood sugar management, heart health, and gut, immune, and thyroid health. The research covers test-tube and animal studies and does not allege any benefits for humans. We find the results fascinating – and promising, nevertheless.
The nutritional profile of 4 tablespoons (20 grams) of sea moss includes the following.
- No fat
- No sugar
- Only ten calories
- 0.5 grams of fiber
- 0.5 grams of protein
- 3 grams of complex carbohydrates
The same serving size of sea moss contains appreciable amounts of copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and iodine. And that’s not all! It also contains antioxidants. Antioxidants are crucial for resisting oxidative stress and maintaining youthful cells.
Numerous moss supplements are available today – including gummies, moss powder, teas, capsules, and in dried form. It’s popularly used with other natural medicines like turmeric, ginger, burdock root, beets, and bladderwrack to enhance overall systemic health and well-being.
Because of its carrageenan content, sea moss is also popular as a thickening agent in numerous commercial foods – including cottage cheese, ice cream, baby formula, and non-dairy milk products.
Thanks for reading our edible moss guide!
We know that foraging for moss and fungus probably isn’t at the top of your list of fun outdoor activities.
And we agree that there are much better things to eat! (We love chicken eggs, pizza, and fresh garden veggies!)
But we hope our moss guide provided ample inspiration regarding the viability of eating moss.
(We think Irish moss isn’t so bad. It tastes great in smoothies!)
We thank you again for reading.
Also – if you have more forage tips, edible moss ideas, or questions, please share!
Have a great day!