Reindeer Moss (Cladonia rangiferina),
Posted on October 9, 2012 by Darren Williams.
Reindeer mosses were originally named for their value as a food source for reindeer and caribou in the plant’s northern range. Reindeer moss is really a lichen – a combination of a fungus and an alga, which share a symbiotic relationship and form a new plant. The algae have chlorophyll and are capable of making their own food, while the fungus has spongy threads to support the plant. It is a short, stubby ground cover that grows in pillow-like mats in sandy soil.
Native Americans relied on the moss as a survival food in hard times. It is low in protein, but high in carbohydrates and vitamins A and B. It was also used in powder form to thicken soups, stews and desserts
In Scandinavia it has been used in the manufacture of alcohol, but difficulties in obtaining reindeer moss arise because of its slow growth rate (3 to 5 mm per year). Its periods of most rapid growth are spring and fall when high humidity and cool temperatures prevail.