The main chemical compounds found in Icelandic Moss are large amounts of a type of starch called lichenin. When this compound is boiled, it turns into a substance resembling mucilage which is particularly soothing to irritated mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract and nasal passages. It also contains complex polysaccharides that have immunostimulant effects and is especially useful to counter catarrh and calm dry coughs.
It is also powerfully antibiotic, containing usnic acid and other lichen acids that combat bacteria and viruses.
The Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) concluded that, “on the basis of its long-standing use, Iceland moss preparations can be used as a demulcent (soothing agent) for treating mouth and throat irritation and associated dry cough.”
The German Commission E has also approved its use for inflammation of the mouth and throat, coughs and bronchitis.
Icelandic Moss is classed as a bitter herb – it stimulates digestive enzymes and enhances the body’s ability to absorb nutrients whilst it is in itself a highly nutritious food.
The aforementioned high mucilage content also exerts its soothing action in the digestive tract and the intestines, which helps to alleviate symptoms of gastritis, gastric ulcers and chronic digestive disturbances. It is also useful in treating digestive disorders caused by parasites due to its ability to gently expel intestinal worms and other parasites.
Folklore and history
It is thought that Icelanders have been using Icelandic Moss since the time of settlement in 874. The first mention of Iceland moss use in Iceland is in Jónsbók (Book of Laws) from 1281, which states that it is forbidden to trespass on other farms to pick lichens.
The Icelandic sagas also contain references to lichen picking expeditions where women and children went up on horseback into the mountains to pick it, with one adult man in attendance for supervision.They slept in tents and packed the lichen in skin bags - Icelandic Moss was a life-saver in hard times. Since grain growing in Iceland never took off due to the unsuitable climate and terrain, moss was their staple. The more moss that was growing on a persons property, the more valuable the land was considered.
Thought to be the very first lichen used as food by humans, Icelandic Moss is one of forty species of Cetraria. It has been used in European folk medicine for centuries, primarily as a remedy for coughs and other ailments of the respiratory system. It was also traditionally used as a galactagogue - a herb that stimulates milk flow in breastfeeding mothers. Whilst it grows in many alpine areas of the Northern Hemisphere, it is most famous for growing abundantly on the mineral-rich volcanic soil, in the pure, unpolluted air of the ancient lava fields in Iceland.
Known to be a highly nutritious food source, all the farms that had Icelandic Moss resources on their land would send a group of people every summer to collect the winter stores of lichens. The lichens were then prepared in a number of ways ranging from Iceland Moss milk, Iceland Moss porridge and breads to offal dishes and to make tea. Icelandic Moss was and still is a valuable food source for reindeer, caribou, musk oxen and moose.
Icelandic Moss Tincture:
Traditionally Taken: 2-3ml taken 2-3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Icelandic Moss tea is made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1–2 tsp of powdered Iceland Moss. The mixture is covered and steeped for 10–15 minutes. Natural sweetener can be added to the tea.
Icelandic Moss contains about 70% of lichenin or lichen-starch. It yields a modification of chlorophyll (called thallochlor), fumaric acid, lichenostearic acid, and cetraric acid (which gives it the bitter taste). It also contains lichesterinic acid and protolichesterinic acids.
Whilst Icelandic Moss is generally considered safe, in excessive doses or with prolonged use, it can cause nausea, looseness of the bowels, gastric irritation or liver problems.
If you are taking any prescription medications, please contact your healthcare professional before consuming Icelandic Moss.