Lichen is one of those plants classified in the edible/survival food category! But not all lichens are edible. If they are greenish-yellow, yellow, orange, or hairy, there is a strong chance they are not edible and may actually be toxic! Reindeer Lichen is one of the few hairy-ish type lichens that are edible.
When edible is paired with Lichen, the intention is that you can ingest it, it does have necessary trace elements to the human body, and it does have nutritional value, but tastes absolutely terrible as a singular food! Some who have tried to prepare it as a singular food have followed time-honoured indigenous methods of soaking and boiling before frying or drying to eat with other dishes on the plate. While some lichen have been described as sweet when picked fresh off the tree (some tribes used this as a way to tell what could and couldn’t be harvested), most people say it tastes like dirt. Considering a primary purpose of lichen is to loosen up material to allow mosses and later larger plants to grow, this is not surprising.
According to one article: “The nutritional value varies, depending on the species and the amount. Generally, lichens have some of the nutritional benefits of a well-known form of algae called “spirulina.” It has vitamins like vitamin K and vitamin C, some carbohydrates and a fairly good calorie count based on the size.”
An excellent article on various lichens, including two we crumble into one of our teas, is here. It was this author that led to the statement above about what to avoid when harvesting lichen.
The two Lichen we use in our tea, that grow around the Okanagan, are: Evernia prunastri (Oak Moss) and Pannaria lurida. We break them off tree bark that we bring home for drying, such as on the twig in this image. The lichen gets crushed into the tea blend in small amounts due to the high concentrations of trace elements present in the Lichen. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, we don’t recommend running out to find them. Many lichen grow in inter-species communities. This means that we find ourselves having to watch out for the greener/yellower/hairy cousins that we don’t want, and avoiding those patches of lichen if we don’t think we can’t pick them clean.
Adding lichen to some of our teas creates a warm, earthy flavour.