Edible lichen

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Two freshly cooked loaves of wila (Bryoria fremontii), an edible lichen that is an important traditional food for some indigenous peoples in North America

Edible lichens are lichens that have a cultural history of use as a food. Although almost all lichen are edible (with some notable poisonous exceptions like the wolf lichen, powdered sunshine lichen, and the ground lichen), not all have a cultural history of usage as an edible lichen.[1][2] Often lichens are merely famine foods eaten in times of dire needs,[3] but in some cultures lichens are a staple food or even a delicacy.


Although there are many lichen species throughout the world, only a few species of lichen are known to be both edible and provide any nutrition.[4] Two problems often encountered with eating lichens is that they usually contain mildly toxic secondary compounds, and that lichen polysaccharides are generally indigestible to humans. Many human cultures have discovered preparation techniques to overcome these problems. Lichens are often thoroughly washed, boiled, or soaked in ash water to help remove secondary compounds.

Recent analytics within the field have identified 15 kinds of edible lichen,[5] which have been mostly found in China. Due to its rubbery consistency, individuals within China fry, boil, and pressure-cook edible lichens.[6] Further, edible lichens can be made into beverages such as tea.[7]

In the past Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica) was an important human food in northern Europe and Scandinavia, and was cooked in many different ways, such as bread, porridge, pudding, soup, or salad. Bryoria fremontii was an important food in parts of North America, where it was usually pitcooked. It is even featured in a Secwepemc story. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia spp.) is a staple food of reindeer and caribou in the Arctic. Northern peoples in North America and Siberia traditionally eat the partially digested lichen after they remove it from the rumen of caribou that have been killed. It is often called 'stomach icecream'. Rock tripe (Umbilicaria spp. and Lasalia spp.) is a lichen that has frequently been used as an emergency food in North America.

One species of Umbilicaria, Iwa-take (U. esculenta), is used in a variety of traditional Korean and Japanese foods. It is quite expensive, and is collected off the sides of cliffs.

In India, The Middle East, and Niger, Rimelia reticulata, Ramalina conduplicans, and Parmotrema tinctorum are used as spices and flavor enhancers.[8] Spices and flavor enhancer are made through a process in which the edible lichens are dehydrated.[9] In India, Parmotrema perlatum lichen is a popular ingredient of many spice mixes, such as garam masala, kaala masala and goda masala, bhojwar masala from Hyderabad and potli masala of Uttar Pradesh. The lichen is usually described as lacking a specific flavor or aromas by cooks, but via various cooking techniques it contributes to a rich aromatic profile and umami taste of many dishes.[10]

Limbu and Rai people of northern Indian subcontinent consider several lichen species (with Everniastrum cirrhatum, Everniastrum nepalense, and Parmotrema cetratum being the preferred species) a delicacy and bulking agent. Ethnobotanists name the Limbu and Sherpa people as most lichenophilic in the region, compared to Brahmin, Chhetri and Tamang people.[11] Sargyangma, a kind of sausage made up of minced pork, pork intestines, pork fat, pork’s blood, eggs, lichen, rice and spices is the most popular Limbu dish.[12][13]

List of edible lichen[edit]

Examples of edible lichen, grouped by their families, include:





See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lichens – Did you know?". U.S. Forest Service. Wildflowers. USDA. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Reindeer moss". Eat the Weeds. Edible Cladonia – Whats not to lichen?. 31 August 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  3. ^ Etkin, Nina L., ed. (1994). Eating on the Wild Side: The Pharmacologic, Ecologic and Social Implications of Using Noncultigens. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-8165-1369-4.
  4. ^ Zhao, Yingshu; Wang, Mingfu; Xu, B. (2021). "A comprehensive review on secondary metabolites and health-promoting effects of edible lichen". Journal of Functional Foods. 80: 104283. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2020.104283. S2CID 228853573.
  5. ^ Zheng, Yu; Xiao, Chao-Jiang; Guo, Kai; Wang, Ying; Liu, Yan; Luo, Shi-Hong; Li, Xiao-Nian; Li, Sheng-Hong (2018-02-21). "Lobarioid A, unusual antibacterial depsidone possessing an eight-membered diether ring from the edible lichen Lobaria sp". Tetrahedron Letters. 59 (8): 743–746. doi:10.1016/j.tetlet.2018.01.027. ISSN 0040-4039.
  6. ^ Choi, Ra-Yeong; Ham, Ju Ri; Yeo, Jiyoung; Hur, Jae-Seoun; Park, Seok-Kyu; Kim, Myung-Joo; Lee, Mi-Kyung (December 2017). "Anti-obesity property of lichen Thamnolia vermicularis extract in 3T3-L1 cells and diet-induced obese mice". Preventive Nutrition and Food Science. 22 (4): 285–292. doi:10.3746/pnf.2017.22.4.285. ISSN 2287-1098. PMC 5758091. PMID 29333380.
  7. ^ Xu, Baojun; Li, Chantian; Sung, Changkeun (2014). "Telomerase inhibitory effects of medicinal mushrooms and lichens, and their anticancer activity". International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 16 (1): 17–28. doi:10.1615/intjmedmushr.v16.i1.20. ISSN 1940-4344. PMID 24940901.
  8. ^ Kanwar, Amrinder J.; De, Dipankar (2010). "Lichen planus in children". Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology. 76 (4): 366–372. doi:10.4103/0378-6323.66581. PMID 20657116. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  9. ^ Nubie, Steve (2018-01-09). "It's 1,000 years old; it's edible; and it's on your property". Off the Grid News. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  10. ^ Mani, Priya (2020), "Stone Curry: P. perlatum as a Secret Spice in Indian food" (PDF), Oxford Food Symposium
  11. ^ Devkota, Shiva; Chaudhary, Ram Prasad; Werth, Silke; Scheidegger, Christoph (2017-02-21). "Indigenous knowledge and use of lichens by the lichenophilic communities of the Nepal Himalaya". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 13 (1): 15. doi:10.1186/s13002-017-0142-2. ISSN 1746-4269. PMC 5320728. PMID 28222809.
  12. ^ Tuesday, Ruby. "Noyoz | Review | Nepali Times". archive.nepalitimes.com. Retrieved 2022-09-06.
  13. ^ Subba, J. (2008) History, Culture and Customs of Sikkim, Gyan, p.133
  14. ^ Wiseman, J. (2014) [1986]. The SAS Survival Handbook (3nd ed.). London, UK: Collins Harvill. ISBN 978-006238671-7.
  15. ^ Angier, Bradford (1974). Field Guide to Edible Plants. ISBN 9780811720182 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ a b c Bhattarai, Thakur P.D.; Subba, Dilip; Subba, R. (May 1999). "Nutritional value of some edible lichens of East Nepal". Angewandte Botanik. 73 (1): 11–14.