Irish moss, sea moss, and Icelandic moss are touted in the natural product industry as beneficial and mineral rich plants that you can add to your health and beauty routine. But there’s a lot of confusion about the differences between them and which to choose for your specific wellness goals.
In this blog, we’ll explore each moss’s unique characteristics, including their botanical names and plant family, and delve into their varied growing conditions and uses. We’ll also uncover the presence of beneficial phytochemicals, including collagen, anthocyanins, and other medicinal properties found in these mosses.
First of all, let’s clarify some confusion about the similar names:
- Neither of the above is technically a moss (~12,000 land species), the first two being algae (aquatic plants, i.e. seaweed) and the third a lichen (symbiotic organism composed of fungus + an algae or bacterium).
- Sea moss and Irish moss are two names that are often used interchangeably, and they can indeed refer to the same species, Chondrus crispus. However, the usage of these two names has historical, geographical, and cultural differences.
The name, “Irish moss,” is historically associated with Ireland. During the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, when food was scarce, the Irish turned to this seaweed for sustenance. The name “Irish moss” reflects its significant role in Irish history and nutrition during a difficult period. In a geographical context, “Irish moss” typically refers to Chondrus crispus found along the rocky Atlantic coastlines of Europe and North America, including Ireland and the northeastern United States.
The term “sea moss” is more of a general name used for the same genus, Chondrus (which includes 10 other species). It doesn’t carry the same historical weight or cultural specificity as “Irish moss.”
“Sea moss” can also refer to Gracilaria, a genus that represents 100-200 different species (out of the 7,000 species that comprise Rhodophyta, or red algae). It includes diverse species which grow in shades of red, purple, and greenish yellow, including purple sea moss and Jamaican sea moss. These are found in different parts of the world, typically in warmer waters, such as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean Sea, and the Indian Ocean. It doesn’t pinpoint a specific region.
In essence, “sea moss” is a more inclusive term, while “Irish moss” is specific to the historical and cultural context of Ireland and regions with Irish heritage.
Icelandic moss, on the other hand, is a completely unrelated species, Cetraria Islandica. It is classified as a lichen, and is also called: Eryngo-leaved Liverwort, Iceland Lichen, and Lichen d’Islande. Nevertheless, it provides minerals, fibers, and antioxidants just like the red algae.
Lichens form a symbiotic partnership that enables the algae to perform photosynthesis, providing nourishment to the lichen, while fungi provide protective benefits.
Icelandic moss varies in color and boasts a cartilaginous texture suitable for diverse climates. Its growth signifies a healthy ecosystem and low pollution levels due to its ability to absorb nutrients and pollutants.
Nevertheless, contamination with pollutants and heavy metals raises concerns about its suitability for human consumption.
Now let’s take a look at the benefits of Irish, sea and Icelandic moss!
Irish or Sea Moss (Chondrus Crispus):
– Botanical Name: Chondrus crispus and/or Gracilaria
– Plant Family: Gigartinaceae
– Etymology: Named after its role during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). Commonly associated with Chondrus crispus, or “carraigín” in Gaelic.
– Nutrient Content: Rich in vitamins E, K, A, and F; high in potassium chloride for immune support; offer skin health benefits.
- Gracilaria is a source of agar, a gelatinous substance made up of polysaccharides extracted from red algae. Agar is commonly found in protein powders, contributing as a vegetable protein source.
- Chondrus crispus is a source of carrageenan. Carrageenan is a common ingredient in dairy alternative beverages such as soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk.
- Both agar and carrageenan are used as thickening and preservative agent in various desserts like ice cream and pudding, and savory dishes such as soups and gravies. – Cosmetic and personal hygiene products often include agar as a stabilizer.
– Beneficial Phytochemicals: Irish Moss is known for its collagen-promoting properties. Collagen is associated with healthy skin, joint, bone, and heart health.
– Uses: Supports and moistens skin, boosts the immune system and digestion; thickening agent in food and cosmetics.
– History of Use for Irish + Sea moss: History of use during the Irish Potato Famine as a vital source of nutrition: traditionally used for its medicinal properties, including soothing coughs and digestive issues.
In general, seaweeds are highly nutritious, packed with minerals, vitamins (A, B1, B2, B9, B12, C, D, E, and K), essential minerals (calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and fluoride), dietary fibers, protein, essential amino acids, and polyphenols known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Being low in fat and calories, and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, they have been historically a healthy and economic low-calorie food staple in Asian cuisine.
Icelandic Moss (Cetraria Islandica):
– Botanical Name: Cetraria islandica
– Plant Family: Parmeliaceae
– Etymology: Named after regions where it predominantly grows, including Iceland, Scandinavia, and Siberia.
– Nutrient Content: Offers various medicinal compounds; potential source of nutrients for overall well-being.
– Beneficial Phytochemicals: Icelandic Moss contains anthocyanins, which can prevent cancer and improve memory. It also provides various medicinal compounds with potential health benefits.
– Uses: Traditional use for treating respiratory conditions and immune support.
– History of Use: Icelandic moss has been a staple in European folk medicine, used to treat ailments like colds, coughs, respiratory problems, and digestive issues. It is commonly consumed as lozenges or cough syrup, incorporated into teas, soups, and porridge, and even used as reindeer feed. In the United States, it is only approved for use as a flavoring agent in alcoholic beverages.
These unique “mosses,” each with their distinct characteristics, rich histories, and the presence of collagen, anthocyanins, and other beneficial phytochemicals, are a testament to the wonders of the natural world. Their health benefits and traditional uses make them valuable components of holistic well-being and natural health solutions.
PS Grab my favorite Irish Moss Recipe to enjoy the health benefits in a delicious smoothie!