Survival Foraging Post 1: Lichen

Posted: April 5, 2012 in Wilderness Survival
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Iceland Moss (eryngo leaved liverwort)


Cetraria Islandica, and other Cetraria species

Habitat: Common bare, rocky, or rather sandy soil.

Grows in cushions and sometimes mats, has narrow “flat” branches, and reaches a height of about 2-4 inches.  Brances and stems are strap like in shape, paper thin and fork.  Most species have tiny spines on edges.  The color can vary from olive green to dark reddish or grayish white to reddish, depending on species and availability of sunlight.


Whole plant.  (Cetraria Islandica) is probably the most useful of the lichens for human consumption.  It has a bitter astringent taste that can be removed by boiling and adding a spoonful of baking soda to the water.  In Icelandic countries it is used to make jelly, gruel porridge, in salads and bread.

From George Llano in “Economic uses of Lichens”

Before the lichens were used it was boiled in lye, rinsed in cold water, dried and stored in closed containers, stored in a dry place, it would keep for many years. In bread it was first oven dried, ground fine, ¼ grain meal was added and mixture was baked as usual producing a strong bread, which fair taste that kept well.

Cetraria Islandica was also mixed with elm cortex and grain, boild and produced a water that was used to make broth.  Cetraria Nivalis (also common in the north) was occasionaly used in the same manner. For porridge a container was willed with one third of the lichen and boiled with water 3-4 times and stirred frequently until it became thick. The top and scum was skimmed off and the rest salted to taste.  You could then cool until hard and eat with or without milk.  It could be redried in an oven and used for bread.  For gruel, on pound of finely cut lichen was added to 1 ½ – 2 quarts of water and cooked slowly until about ½ of the water had evaporated.  This was strained while hot and flavoured with raisins or cinnamon.  After boiling and separating the broth, the residue was eaten with oil, egg yellow, sugar, etc as a exotic northern salad.  Hardened jelly was often mixed with lemon juice, chocolate or almonds


Reindeer Moss (Reindeer Lichen, Caribou Lichen)

Cladina rangiferina, Cladina Stellaris and other Cladina Species

Habitat: Stellaris is most abundant in the north, common on open ground, light shade, prefers slopes or depressions where snow cover will accumulate.

C. rangiferina is silvery-gray, or grey-white in color. C. Stellaris and other species range form yellowish to greyish-green.


Whole Plant:  as with other lichens, bitter taste can be removed with boiling water and baking soda added to the water.  These lichens however have appeared to be most use to humans when partially digested by animals and taken from stomach, they are digestible and nutritious.

Hearn, 1795.

A dish served by northern natives was a mixture of blood with half digested food found in reindeers stomach.  It is boiled up with enough water to make a consistency of pease pottage (a pea porridge, consistency of hummus).  Fat, and scraps of flesh are shredded into small bits and boiled with it.  They would mix the blood with the contents of the stomach in the stomach sac itself and hang it aover the heat and smoke of the fire for days.  This puts the mixture into a state of fermentation and gives it an “agreeable” acid taste.  Natives would also eat it to ward of starvation and hunger pains.


Rock Tripe (Tripe de Roche)

Umbilicaria & Lasallia species

Habitat : bare rocks, moist, open woods and cliffs.

Rock Tripe is a group of leaf shaped lichens that are attached at their centers to non-calcareous (mostly granite) rocks.  They are almost circular and flat, smooth or covered in blisters and pits.  They are greyish to dark-brown or black.  Undersides are often darker and velvety.  When they are moist they are leathery or rubbery, and a most easily collected in this condition.


The whole plant.  This is a last resort survival food, and make sure you prepare correctly.  A group of explorers did not process it correctly and suffered from severe side effects such as extreme bowel issues, nausea and other illnesses.  Boil with baking soda as stated with other lichen species, or at least soak it to become more digestible.  Snip off the gritty parts of the base where they are attached to the rocks, wash over and over and over again in running water if possible.  In a pan roast slowly until it becomes dry and crisp, then drop into boiling water and boil for 1 hour.  Eat hold or cold, as soup or pudding.  It has been remarked by other explorers as remarkably good and pleasing.  When natives would run out of food this is what they would go and find, they would boil it to provide a nourishing gelatin to feed his children.


Tree Lichen (black tree moss, tree hair, Old mans beard, wila)

Bryoria specias (B. Fuscescens, B. lanestris & B. pseudofuscescens)

Habitat: found growing on branches of trees, mostly coniferous (pine, spruce, fir and larch)

Tree Lichen are black or generally dark colored and can look like tangled clumbs of hair and can grow up to 2 feet in length.  They are brittle when dry but become limp when wet.


The whole plant. Can be gathered year round which makes it useful as a emergency food source.  As with other lichens it should be thoroughly cleaned and cooked (boiled with baking soda) to remove slight bitterness. Baking, roasting and boiling have all been recommended.  The remaining substance can be used as a flour additive in soups, stews and cereals.   Natives were said to clean it so thoroughly it would lose it color and then add it to dough as one would add raisins or other bread additives and bake whole.  It was said also that the lichen would have the same effect as copious amounts of yeast powder.  Prior to flour they cooked it with grease or fats.  Athabaskans of British Columbia used it as a potential source for emergency food.  Often it was cooked in fire pits, and if thoroughly cooked can be stored for years.

Pit method:

After being cleaned, the wila is traditionally cooked in a pit.  The pit is traditionally quite large, 1 to 3 m across and 60 to 90 cm deep. A fire is lit in the pit, and numerous rocks are heated up on the fire until they are very hot. Some people sprinkle some dirt over the rocks after they have been heated up. Then a thick layer of wet vegetation (perhaps moss, fern fronds, skunk cabbage leaves, bark, grass, or conifer needles) is used to cover the rocks and line the pit. The wila is piled on top of this vegetation, almost always with layers of root vegetables or other food. The lichen is then covered with more wet vegetation. Often a barrier of large leaves, bark, reed mats, or burlap sacks is placed on top of all the vegetation to stop any detritus from falling into the food. The entire thing is then covered over with a layer of dirt.

Water is usually added to the pit after it has been covered. This is accomplished by holding a large stick upright in the pit as it is being filled with the dirt, vegetation, and food. This stick is pulled out after the pit is completely covered, leaving a small hole that extends right down to the hot rocks at the bottom. Water is poured down this resulting hole, and then it is sealed with dirt. Then a fire is usually built on top of the pit, and the lichen is left to cook for anywhere from overnight to several days. When it is dug up it has formed a black, gelatinous dough about a quarter of its original volume.


CAUTION: edible species can be confused with bitter and possibly toxic species in some areas.  A rule of thumb is if you taste it raw and it is very bitter don’t eat it, it can contain toxic amounts of vulpinic acid.



Great Northern Prepper Out

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