Health benefits of Icelandic Moss – Cetraria islandica

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Iceland moss Quick Facts
Name: Iceland moss
Scientific Name: Cetraria islandica
Origin From Canada to Alaska; south to the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Colorado, the Great Lakes states, New England, and in alpine regions in the Appalachians to Tennessee
Colors Upper surface is brown in color lower surface is much lighter shade of brown or is a gray brown with dispersed white spots
Shapes Tough and springy
Taste Bitter
Health benefits Good for chronic pulmonary problems, catarrh, dysentery, chronic digestive disturbances, tuberculosis, cough & bronchitis, dyspepsia, inflammation of mouth and pharynx, loss of appetite
Iceland moss is not a moss, but lichen, a symbiotic association between algae and fungus, and grows profusely in Iceland, hence the name. Although it is not a vascular plant, the structure of Iceland moss can be mistaken for stems and leaves, which makes it look like a moss; the likeness in appearance may have been the reason for its name. The plant belongs to Parmeliaceae family of plants and is abundant throughout the Arctic and mountainous regions of the northern countries. It is found in the mountains of North Wales, North England, Scotland and South-west Ireland. In North America, its range spreads through Arctic regions, from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south in the Rocky Mountains to Colorado, and to the Appalachian Mountains of New England. Other common name for Iceland moss is Eryngo-leaved liverwort, Iceland Lichen, Iceland moss, True Iceland lichen, Island cetraria lichen and Oriental cetraria lichen.

Iceland Moss Facts

Name Iceland moss
Scientific Name Cetraria islandica
Native From Canada to Alaska; south to the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Colorado, the Great Lakes states, New England, and in alpine regions in the Appalachians to Tennessee
Common Names Iceland Lichen, Iceland Moss, True Iceland lichen, island cetraria lichen, Oriental cetraria lichen, eryngo-leaved liverwort
Name in Other Languages Afrikaans: Mosland        
Albanian: Myshk i iceland           
Amharic: Ayisilanidi mozayiki (አይስላንድ ሞዛይክ)
Arabic: Tahlab ayslanda (طحلب أيسلندا)
Armenian: Iceland mamurr (iceland մամուռ)
Azerbaijani: Iceland yosunu, İslandiya setrariyası
Bengali: Ā isalyānḍa śyā ōlā (আইসল্যান্ড শ্যাওলা)  
Bulgarian: Islandski much (исландски мъх), islandski lišej (исландски лишей)  
Burmese: Aite hc laan ray nyhai (အိုက်စလန်ရေညှိ)
Catalan: Liquen d’Islàndia
Chinese:  Bīngdǎo táixiǎn (冰岛苔藓)
Croatian: Islandska mahovina, Islandski lišaj
Czech: Mech Islandu, pukléřka islandská
Danish: Island mos, Fjeldgræss, Hede-græss, Hede-mose, Islandsk mose
Dutch: Ijslands mos
English: Iceland Lichen, Iceland Moss, True Iceland lichen, island cetraria lichen
Esperanto: Islanda musko
Estonian: Islandi sammal, Islandi käokõrv             
Filipino: I Moss lumot
Finnish: Islannin sammal, Isohirvenjäkälä
French: Mousse d’Islande, Cétraire d’Islande     
Georgian: Islandiis khavsi (ისლანდიის ხავსი)
German: Island Moos, Islandflechte, Isländisch Moos, Isländisch Moos, Isländisches Moos
Greek: Vrýa tis Islandías (βρύα της Ισλανδίας)
Gujarati: -Ā isalēnḍa mōsa (આઇસલેન્ડ મોસ)
Hausa: Dusar kankara
Hebrew: איזוב איסלנד   
Hindi: Aaikalaind mos (आइकलैंड मॉस)
Hungarian: Izlandi moha, Izlandi zuzmó
Icelandic: Islands mos, Fjallagrös
Indonesian: Islandia lumut         
Irish: Caonach oighir
Italian: Muschio d’Islanda           
Japanese: Aisurandomosu (アイスランドモス), Eirantai (エイランタイ)
Javanese: Moss lumut  
Kannada: Aislyāṇḍ pāci (ಐಸ್ಲ್ಯಾಂಡ್ ಪಾಚಿ)
Kazakh: Iceland мүк (Iceland mük), Island mügí (Исланд мүгі)
Korean: Aiseullandeu ikki (아이슬란드 이끼)
Kurdish: Iceland moss
Lao: Moss iceland
Latin: Racomitrium moss iceland
Latvian: Islandes sūnas, Islandes ķērpis
Lithuanian: Islandų samanos, Islandinė kerpena
Macedonian: Ysland mov (Исланд мов), islandski lišaj (исландски лишај)
Malagasy: Ivana moss
Malay: Lumut iceland
Malayalam: Ais‌lānṟ mēās (ഐസ്‌ലാന്റ് മോസ്)
Maltese: Hażiż tal-Islanda           
Marathi: Aaeesaland mos (आईसलँड मॉस)           
Mongolian: Iceland khövd (iceland хөвд)
Nepali: Ā isalyāṇḍa kā ī (आइसल्याण्ड काई)
Norwegian: Island moss, Fjeldgræss, Hede-græss, Hede-mose, Islandsk mose, Islandslav
Oriya: ଆଇସଲ୍ୟାଣ୍ଡ୍ ମସ୍ |   
Pashto: د آیسلینډ ماس  
Persian: ایسلند خزه       
Polish: Mech islandzki, Płucnica islandzka            
Portuguese: Musgo da islândia 
Punjabi: Ā īsalaiṇḍa  mausa (ਆਈਸਲੈਂਡ ਮੌਸ)
Pushto: آيسلېنډي گل سنگ
Romanian: Mușchiul Islandei, Mușchi de piatră 
Russian: Islandskiy mokh (исландский мох), tsetrariya islandsk (цетрария исландск)   
Serbian: Islandska mahovina (исландска маховина)
Sindhi: آئس لينڊ ماس
Sinhala: Ayislanḍ pāsi (අයිස්ලන්ඩ් පාසි)
Slovenian: Islandski mah             
Spanish: Musgo islandia, Islandski lišaj
Sundanese: Lukut iceland           
Swedish: Isländsk mossa, Islandslav       
Tajik: Mossland (Моссланд)
Tamil: Aislāntu pāci (ஐஸ்லாந்து பாசி)
Telugu: Aislāṇḍ nācu (ఐస్లాండ్ నాచు)
Thai: Mx s̄ xịs̒ lænd̒ (มอสไอซ์แลนด์) 
Turkish: Lzlanda yosunu
Ukranian: Islandsʹkyy mokh (ісландський мох), Islandsʹkyy lyshaynyk (Ісландський лишайник)              
Urdu: آئس لینڈ کائی
Uzbek: Iceland mox
Vietnamese: Itub rêu   
Welsh: Mwsogl Gwlad yr Iâ
Zulu: I-iceland moss
Plant Growth Habit Fruticose, or shrub-like bushy lichen
Growing Climates Damp places, usually on rocks and the bark of trees, especially conifers, heaths, dunes, coastal plains, lichen woodlands, bogs, meadows, and tundra, forested sites, nunataks, and rock crevices
Soil Most often found in sandy soil in exposed areas at high elevations.  It commonly grows on moist or dry tundra among mosses or in the open
Plant Size 2 to 8 inches (5-20 cm) broad
Fruit Shape & Size Tough and springy
Fruit Color Upper surface is brown in color
Lower surface is much lighter shade of brown or is a gray brown with dispersed white spots
Propagation Through vegetative means
Available Forms Infusion, decoction, tincture, extract, oil
Plant Parts Used Whole Lichen
Taste Bitter
Season May and September
Health Benefits
  • Good for Coughs/Colds/Bronchitis
  • Digestive Health

Plant Description

Iceland moss is fruticose or shrub-like bushy lichen with a small to medium brown thallus growing loosely on the soil.  The thallus (the body of fungi and lichens, being without vascular tissue and not differentiating into root, stem, and leaves) is channeled or rolled into thin, branched tubes, which terminate in flattened lobes fringed with minute papillae, rarely more than 5mm wide. Colonies are 2 to 8 inches (5-20 cm) broad.  Apothecia are generally rare.  Cetraria islandica displays cushion like growth, making it well suited to weather high winds in harsh environments.  It absorbs water slowly and can endure prolonged wet periods. 

The whole lichen is very tough and springy. There is a distinct coloration to the body of the Iceland moss; the upper surface is always brown in color. On the other hand, the lower or the outer surface of the moss tends to have a much lighter shade of brown or is a gray brown with dispersed white spots all over it. There are white spots which have a chalky or mealy appearance, and which are lodged in little depressions of the thallus.

Cetraria islandica produces ascospores, but sexual reproduction is infrequent.  Reproduction mainly occurs by means of thallus fragmentation or the dispersal of isidia and soredia.  Wind or animals may play an important role in the dispersal of these vegetative propagules.

Plant Growth Habit

The plant is found growing in damp places, usually on rocks and the bark of trees, especially conifers, heaths, dunes, coastal plains, lichen woodlands, bogs, meadows, tundra, forested sites, nunataks, and rock crevices. It is most often found in sandy soil in exposed areas at high elevations.  It commonly grows on moist or dry tundra among mosses or in the open.

Benefits of Iceland moss

Listed below are few of the health benefits of Iceland moss

1. Coughs/Colds/Bronchitis

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 immune-stimulant 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.

2. Digestive Health

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.

Traditional uses and benefits of Icelandic Moss

  • Iceland moss has been used since ancient times as a cough remedy and has also been used in European folk medicine as a cancer treatment.
  • In present day herbalism it is highly prized for its strongly antibiotic and demulcent actions, being used particularly to soothe the mucous membranes of the chest, to counter catarrh and calm dry and paroxysmal coughs – it is particularly helpful as a treatment for elderly people.
  • Iceland moss has both a demulcent and a bitter tonic effect within the gut – a combination almost unique amongst medicinal herbs.
  • Whole plant is strongly antibiotic, antiemetic, strongly demulcent, galactogogue, nutritive and tonic.
  • It is excellent when used internally in the treatment of chronic pulmonary problems, catarrh, dysentery, chronic digestive disturbances (including irritable bowel syndrome and food poisoning) and advanced tuberculosis.
  • Externally, it is used in the treatment of boils, vaginal discharges and impetigo.
  • The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Cetraria islandica for cough & bronchitis, dyspepsia, inflammation of mouth and pharynx, loss of appetite.
  • Historically, C. islandica has been used to treat coughs, tuberculosis, fevers, and scurvy.
  • Cetraria islandica has also been used as a source of antibiotics.
  • It is traditionally used to relieve chest ailments, irritation of the oral and pharyngeal mucous membranes and to suppress dry cough.
  • Some people apply Iceland moss directly to poorly healing wounds.
  • Traditionally Iceland moss was considered a galactagogue and to have strong antibiotic, antiemetic, strongly demulcent and nutritive properties.
  • Iceland moss has been principally recommended in chronic pulmonary and digestive conditions, particularly phthisis wasting condition also known as pulmonary tuberculosis), dyspepsia, and chronic diarrhea.
  • In ancient times, the herb was a traditional herbal cough remedy, and had been used in European folk medicine as a cancer treatment.
  • Traditionally it was used to soothe the mucous membranes of the chest, to treat chronic pulmonary problems, to counter catarrh and to calm dry and paroxysmal coughs and as a relief for advanced tuberculosis.
  • Mucilage properties of this herb provide a natural treatment for the oral and pharyngeal membranes.
  • Its bitter organic tonic action may stimulate the appetite and promote gastric secretion.
  • Its soothing action is useful for conditions such as gastritis, gastric ulcer, hiatus hernia, and reflux esophagitis.
  • It is thought to be a useful herbal treatment when used internally in the treatment of dysentery, chronic digestive disturbances (including irritable bowel syndrome and food poisoning).
  • It was traditionally used for relief of vomiting arising from irritation and inflammation of the stomach.
  • It may be a useful herbal remedy for low-grade stomach infections seen when there is low stomach acid production.
  • It is used as a remedy for the effects of excess stomach acid secretion and it is thought to be a natural treatment for conditions such as malnourishment, debility, and anorexia.
  • Ordinary doses improve the appetite, digestion and general nutrition.
  • The herb is used as a surface application to treat boils, vaginal discharges, and impetigo.
  • Iceland moss is also used to treat topical problems affecting the skin.
  • Iceland moss is excellent for dealing with boils, to quiet down vaginal discharges in women, and to alleviate impetigo affecting the skin.
  • Consumption of the Iceland moss aids in the treatment of disorders such as dysentery, chronic pulmonary problems and catarrh, and proves beneficial in dealing all kinds of chronic digestive disturbances – including irritable bowel syndrome and cases of food poisoning.

Culinary Uses

  • Jelly is made by boiling the whole plant.
  • It is nutritious and medicinal.
  • Dried and powdered plant can be mixed with wheat and used in making bread and Cereals.
  • Powder made from dried C. islandica can be boiled to yield a jelly used in soups in northern Europe.
  • In earlier times, it was much more widely used in breads, porridges, soups etc.
  • In foods, Iceland moss is used as an emergency food source in Iceland.
  • In manufacturing, Iceland moss is used as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages.
  • Traditionally in northern Europe, the powdered lichen was used as a thickener in soups.
  • It can also be used to make confectionary, in which case it is made into a jelly and combined with lemon, sugar, chocolate, or almonds.
  • In the 19th century it was drunk with cocoa sweetened with sugar for a really wholesome drink in cases of colds and flu.

Other Facts

  • Powerful antibiotic can be obtained from the plant and this has become a fundamental ingredient in a wide range of commercially produced disinfectants.
  • Brown dye is obtained from the plant.
  • Cetraria islandica is valued as “good” forage for horses and pigs, and has been used as fodder for cattle.
  • The astringent qualities of C. islandica make it useful in tanning leather.

Precautions

  • Rare liver damage.
  • Herb bitterness possible in breast milk.
  • In excessive doses or with prolonged use, Iceland moss can cause nausea, indigestion, looseness of the bowels, gastric irritation or liver problems.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=190618#null

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cetraria+islandica

https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/cetraria_islandica.htm

https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mosice52.html

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ceis60

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/lichens/cetisl/all.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetraria_islandica

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/CETRIS

https://www.herbal-supplement-resource.com/iceland-moss.html

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