Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)

Found some reindeer lichens near the Arctic Circle last weekend in Iceland, although it grows quite abundantly on the roadsides there as well. Also called Caribou Moss, I found out some interesting medicinals when taking it as a tea. That is seemed to soften the water and also clean it of any dirt or any unwanted chlorine that may have been in the tap water was evident. This is a delicate part of the land, and there is a reason it is found mostly in the Arctic climes, for it will only grow a few mm. a year, which means, don’t go tramping around unconsciously and ripping up all the life. They dominate the old Boreal forests back in Canada, or up in the Taiga woods.

For aquavit, this lichen can be used, which is famous in the Nordic and Thule lands. An Eastern Himalayan people used it against kidney stones, and it is also a medicine food when crushed and soaked hot until soft, this by the Dena’ina, and inland Alaskans. It goes with berries, fish, and eggs, but they do have quite a list of acids I can barely pronounce so they must be well cooked. These interesting lifeforms are an ancient hybrid of fungi and alga, the quintessential ground coverings of the north. Maybe the vikings made their beds with these lichens, certainly many reindeer do. Strangely it is also found in Turkey, South Africa, Lizard Island in Cornwall, and France. If you find them, they are a sign of clear air. They are in line with atwa.

Siberian and Sami tribes let their reindeer feed on it all day, and they can also be eaten partially digested from the caribou rumens. Labrador Inuit and the Ojibwa (my people) used “caribou moss” in times of starvation, but generally the indigenous use is sparse and sometimes only for emergency. After cooked it is also a good vegetarian dog food, likely the Alaskan or Siberian huskies and sled dogs.

“The main food use of reindeer lichen as a major component of the partially digested stomach contents of caribou and other ungulates. Often mixed together with other lichens such as Cetraria, mushrooms, horsetails, sedges, grasses, willow, birch, and blueberry leaves and shoots, it was considered a delicacy in this form. This food was used traditionally by most Inuit peoples (including Igloolik, Copper, Caribou, Netsilik, Baffin Island, Nuamiut, Labrador, and Polar), as well as by the Chipewyan and other northern Indian groups. Because the complex lichen polysaccharides and proteins were apparently partially broken down in the animal’s rumen, this material was more easily digestible for humans”.

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