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Iceland Moss

Cetraria islandica

Iceland Lichen
Iceland Moss

Parts used
Habitat and cultivation
How much to take
Collection and harvesting

Herbs gallery - iceland_moss

Iceland moss - a lichen growing up to 4 inches tall. Its thallus, or plant body, is curled, erect, and highly branched, with spiny edges. The upper surface is brown; the lower (outer) surface is a lighter brown or gray-brown with white spots.

Here is another misnamed plant. Although Iceland moss is abundant in Iceland, it is not a moss at all, but a lichen. Like all lichens, Iceland moss is made up of two types of plants, a fungus and an alga. The alga's cells are entangled in the threads of the fungus, and the plants live together in a mutually beneficial relationship known as symbiosis. While the green alga synthesizes, or makes food for itself and the fungus, the fungus absorbs and retains water that the alga uses in photosynthesis.

Centuries ago Iceland moss became known as a remedy for many kinds of respiratory ailments. Iceland moss consists of large amounts of a starch called lichenin, and when boiled, it forms a mucilage like substance that is especially soothing to irritated mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. Iceland moss also contains bitters, which stimulate the appetite. This, together with its food value, accounts for its use as a tonic for convalescents. Because of its high carbohydrate content, Iceland moss has sometimes served as a food, particularly in cold northern countries where the lichen flourishes. When used as a food, the boiled extract was sometimes flavored with wine, sugar, or lemon to make it more palatable.

Modern herbals still name Iceland moss as a tonic and a remedy for irritations of the respiratory tract.


Whole plant.


Strongly demulcent, Iceland moss soothes the mucous membranes of the chest, counters congestion, and calms dry and paroxysmal coughs, being particularly helpful as a treatment for elderly people. Iceland moss is also very bitter and, within the gut, has both a demulcent and bitter tonic effect -a combination almost unique in medicinal herbs. It is thus of value in all kinds of chronic digestive problems -for instance, irritable bowel syndrome. Iceland moss also gently expels worms, and, in view of recent European research, could prove useful for certain digestive infections.

As a soothing demulcent with its high mucilage content, Iceland moss finds use in the treatment of gastritis, vomiting and dyspepsia. Iceland moss is often used in respiratory catarrh and bronchitis.  In addition its nourishing qualities contribute to the treatment of cachexia, a state of malnourishment and debility.


Iceland moss is native to northern and alpine areas of Europe. Iceland moss flourishes in sub-Arctic and mountainous regions on rocks and on the bark of trees, especially conifers. Iceland moss is harvested throughout the year.


Iceland moss contains lichen acids (including usnic acid), and about 50% polysaccharides. Usnic acid and the other lichen acids are powerful antibiotics.


Decoction: put 1 teaspoonful of the shredded moss in a cup of cold water, boil for 3 minutes and let stand for 10 minutes. A cup should be drunk morning and evening.
Tincture: take 1- 2 ml of the tincture three times a day.


The lichen may be gathered throughout the year, though between May and September is perhaps best. It should be freed from attached impurities and dried in the sun or the shade.


For the treatment of nausea and vomiting, Iceland moss can be combined with black horehound.