Iceland Moss




Iceland Moss

Family:    Parmeliaceae
Genus:    Cetraria
Species:   islandica

Synonyms and Common names:   Eryngo-leaved liverwort, and Iceland lichen.

Description and Habitat:
Iceland Moss is a lichen, it is not a moss, although it's erect or upright leaf-like habit gives it the appearance of a moss, which is probably where its name originated from.

Iceland moss grows abundantly in the mountainous regions of Northern countries and is especially characteristic of the lava slopes and plains of the West, and North of Iceland.  It is found on the mountains of North Wales, Northern England and Scotland, and the South West of Ireland.  In North America, its range extends through Arctic regions from Alaska to Newfoundland, and to the Appalachian Mountains of New England.

Iceland moss has thin, branched thalli, which are fringed with minute papillae, the whole being quite tough and springy. The under surface is paler than the upper surface and is covered with depressed white spots. It is found on barren stony ground, on lava, and throughout all northern countries.


Parts used:  All the herb is used.


Collection and preparation:  The herb can be collected at any time between May and September. It is dried in a dark airy place and chopped before putting in a container with a tight top.

Indications and Therapeutics:
Iceland and moss is a soothing demulcent with a high mucilage content.  It finds use in the treatment of gastritis, gastric ulcer, hiatus hernia, reflux oesophagitis, vomiting, and dyspepsia.

It generally soothes the mucous membranes. In addition, its nourishing qualities contribute to the treatment of cachexia, a state of malnourishment, and debility.

It does help to contain vomiting arising from irritation and inflammation of the stomach.  It is indicated in cases of low-grade stomach infections, usually found when there is low stomach acid production, but it is also useful in improving the effects of excess stomach acid secretion.

Iceland moss is often used in the treatment of respiratory catarrh and bronchitis, especially in constantly recurring acute irritation in the elderly.

It is useful for coughs and hoarseness and is sometimes given for tuberculosis since it acts to dissolve mucous congestion and it is believed that the lichen acids hinder the growth of the tubercle bacillus.

Contraindications:   Excessive doses or prolonged treatment can cause gastrointestinal irritation and liver problems.

Preparation and dosage:
Decoction:  Put 1 teaspoon of shredded moss into a pan and add 2 cupful’s of water,  bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes and then leave it to stand for 10 minutes.   Drink 2 times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Tincture:  Take 1-2 ml of tincture three times daily.


Additional comments and Folklore:

It is thought that Icelanders have been using Icelandic Moss since the time of settlement there around 874.  The first mention of the herbs used in Iceland is in Jonsbok ‘s book of the law, which says 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.  Iceland Moss was a lifesaver in hard times.  Since grain growing was not done in Iceland because of the unsuitable climate and terrain, moss was their staple food.  The more moss that was growing on a person’s property, the more valuable the land was considered to be.

Thought to be the very first lichen used as food by humans, 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 the lichens were prepared in a number of ways ranging from Iceland Moss milk, Iceland Moss porridge, and bread, added to offal dishes, and to make tea. Icelandic Moss was and still is a valuable food source for reindeer, caribou, musk oxen, and moose.