Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is Reindeer Moss?

Reindeer moss is a species of lichen so called because it is the staple winter food of reindeer (and caribou) in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. The animals reach the plant by scraping away the snow with their feet. But plant growth in those cold northern lands is so slow that the lichen can take more than 30 years to recover after the reindeer have grazed. These domesticated herbs therefore have to travel long distances in search of food, and the Laplanders of Northern Scandinavia, who depend on the animals for their livelihood must travel with them.

Fortunately, reindeer moss is especially abundant in Lapland, although it also grows extensively in much of northern Europe, the tundra (or treeless plains) of Siberia and the barren expanses of Arctic America.

During the short summer the reindeer are able to feed on herbage and shoots then accessible in the valleys. These versatile animals provide the Laplanders with meat, milk, cheese and the raw materials for clothing, shoes, and tents. They are also a means of transport.

Reindeer moss is sometimes eaten by human beings, after being powdered and mixed with other food. But it leaves a slightly burning sensation on the human palate. This bluish-grey plant grows erect in tufts, and is remarkable for its many branches, which strangely resemble a deer's antlers.

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