FUNNY FACTS ABOUT REINDEER MOSS
Reindeer Moss, also known as Polar Moss, Caribou Moss, and Reindeer Lichen is a bushy, branched lichen found in great abundance in Arctic lands. It is an erect, many-branched plant that grows up to 10 cm high, covers immense areas, and serves as pasture for reindeer, moose, caribou, and musk oxen. The Reindeer and Caribou seek it out by its fragrant scent, then paw the snow until the Reindeer Moss is revealed. It has been noted that in these desolate areas, only the Reindeer or the Reindeer Moss can survive. Not both.
Reindeer Moss is a slow growing plant that grows by 3-5mm per year. Its periods of most rapid growth are spring and fall when high humidity and cool temperatures prevail.
Lichens can grow in very inhospitable conditions. They take advantage of the “leftover spots” of the natural world that are too harsh or limited for most other organisms. They can grow in very hot or cold temperatures and can go without water for long periods. They dry out and go dormant when there is little water or light. They can begin to grow again even after very long periods of dormancy.
During the Middle Ages lichens figured prominently as the herbs used by practitioners. Northern native people used it to treat colds, arthritis, fevers and other problems. It was also used as a poultice to relieve the aches of arthritic joints. In addition, it could also help with constipation, convulsions, tuberculosis and a useful remedy of whooping cough.
In the 1800’s Sweden led the world in lichen alcohol production where the rest of Europe and Russia followed. It was seen as an alternative to grain alcohol. Lichen brandy was very popular, and was also used in the making of Akvavit, a traditional caraway-flavoured spirit. Russia also made molasses (black treacle); this was made from lichen crowns. Most lichen contain 94% carbohydrates, but due to their growth on rocks and stones, result in a rock dissolving acid that can burn your insides.
Is it edible?
Most lichen are likeable, but not exactly consumer friendly. What the lichen all share is acid and as such require proper preparation if they are to be eaten because unprepared and uncooked they will painfully attack your digestive track. Unprepared lichen taste like aspirin. That should motivate you to prepare it correctly. Never eat unprepared and raw lichen unless your life truly depends upon it. It will probably not kill you, but you will wish it had.
Indigenous people of the Arctic known as Dene would eat reindeer lichen by killing the reindeer and harvesting its stomach, after the animal had consumed reindeer moss. They would remove the animal’s stomach and make sure it was full of reindeer moss, then add the animal’s blood. The mixture is allowed to ferment for a few days before they cook and eat it.
Reindeer moss was used to kill wolves by early setters. They would stuff a dead chicken with reindeer lichen, causing the wolf to consume the chicken and inadvertently digest the reindeer moss. Once within the wolf’s digestive tract the reindeer moss would be broken down and form usnic acid crystals, found in lichen. The crystals would cut up the wolf’s digestive tract and kill the animal.
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