Irish moss (Sagina subulata), a low-growing flowering perennial, was one of the first plants to be named in the modern system of plant nomenclature. Many gardeners grow this lush, green plant for its foliage and use it in borders or as a filler for crevices or stepping-stones. Its leaves and stems form a dense, bright green mat that handles foot traffic well. It has tiny, white flowers that bloom in the spring and is partial to shady conditions. Irish moss is hardy to temperatures 30 degrees below zero and can be evergreen in warm climates.
Irish moss is a seaweed that grows along the rocky coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean, mainly around the coast of Massachusetts. It also is found in Europe, harvested primarily in Ireland. In fact, this plant has a long Irish history. In Irish folklore, it was believed to be a good luck charm and was taken on long journeys for protection. It also was kept under a rug in homes to bring money and prosperity to the household. The Irish often used the plant as a stuffing for mattresses and for cattle feed. During the 19th century, Ireland was struck with famine, and the versatile Irish moss became a main source of food and nutrition. Since that time, many cultures have discovered the nutritional value and healing properties of the plant. Today, Irish moss is gaining recognition as one of the world's super foods.
When most people refer to Irish moss, they are speaking of the plant Sagina subulata. Two other plant forms, however, are referred to as Irish moss. Scotch moss (Arenaria verna) is so similar to Irish moss that many often mistake them. Scotch moss has a yellow tint to its foliage, but this often escapes the inexperienced eye. During the blooming season, Scotch moss bears small, white clusters, while Irish moss produces single, white blooms. Scotch moss favors clay soil.
Carrageen moss (Chrondrus crispus) does not resemble Irish moss or Scotch moss, but it also is called Irish moss. This red seaweed grows in profusion along the rocky parts of North America and the Atlantic coast of Europe.
Irish moss is believed to contain 15 of the 18 essential elements that make up the human body. This includes significant amounts of calcium, iodine and potassium as well as vitamins A, D, E, F and K. Protein, bromine, beta-carotene, iron and magnesium also are present, along with vitamin C and the B-vitamins. Government studies have found that Irish moss contain antiviral properties that can help fight the mumps virus and influenza B. A vegetarian diet will benefit from the plant's sulfur-containing amino acids.
Many people are rediscovering the nutritional value of the Irish moss plant, so it has become more that a filler garden plant. Irish moss has no taste, but it can be quite palatable when cooked. According to an FAO case study, the plant contains a high proportion of indigestible carbohydrates when cooked. In New England and western Europe, fresh or hydrated Irish moss is boiled and the gel sweetened and flavored for use in desserts. Because of the high vitamin and mineral content of Irish moss, it is included in a number of health aids and cosmetic products. Carrageen moss contains a jelling agent that is added to such products as salad dressing and toothpaste.
Irish moss is an easy-to-grow plant that requires minimal care. The seeds of the plant should be sown in the spring or autumn in an area that receives plenty of sunshine and has moist, yet well-drained soil. Seeds should be placed at least 10 inches away from each other so the plants have space to grow. Young plants should be fertilized, mulched and watered regularly.