Edible Lichens

Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, usually either a green alga or a cyanobacterium. Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth-arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. They can even survive unprotected in the vacuum of space for a while.

Lichens have provided various uses for humans, including food sources for different cultures around the world, and used in the making of dyes and as a primitive antibiotic. However most of these uses have been replaced by more effective and suitable replacements. Modern uses for lichens mostly involve research and as an indicator species for measuring air pollution and environmental issues.

Lichens can be found all-over in Connecticut. The most common lichens are generally foliose lichens such as the common greenshield lichen that can be found on rocks. Also common is the reindeer lichens, which can be found covering the ground, often in large patches, especially at higher elevations.

Cladonia rangiferina
Common Name: Reindeer lichen
While not recommended as a worthwhile wild edible, the Inland Dena'ina of Eastern Himalaya used reindeer lichen for food by crushing the dry plant and then boiling it or soaking it in hot water until it becomes soft. They eat it plain or, preferably, mixed with berries, fish eggs, or lard. They also boil reindeer liche... [READ MORE]

Flavoparmelia caperata
Common Name: Common greenshield lichen
Reported to be edible but not palatable. Instructions include: boil with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or hardwood ashes to neutralize acid, then either eat the resulting goo or add it to any stew, soup, or bread recipe.

Umbilicaria mammulata
Common Name: Smooth rock tripe
This lichen is edible but not generally considered desirable. An hour of boiling is said to convert this leather-like lichen into an edible source of protein, palatable by itself or when added to soup or stews. Soak for 2-3 hours first to remove acids that might caused digestive upset. Many say it tastes like shoe leather... [READ MORE]