Is it true that moss can dress a wound?
AIndeed. Sphagnum mosses, which blanket many peat bogs and fens in the UK, are a natural antiseptic and were collected on an industrial scale during World War One and – to a lesser extent – World War Two. With cotton in short supply, entire communities were mobilised across the UK, Ireland and northern America to harvest what was then known as ‘bogmoss’ – specifically Sphagnum papillosum and S. palustre – with children given days off school and Scouts and Guides organising foraging expeditions. The plants were turned into dressings and dispatched to the battle front, where they proved far more effective than cotton bandages. Wounds dressed in sphagnum were less likely to become infected, and the moss was far more absorbent than any fabric alternative, thanks to a cell structure that allows it to hold more than 20 times its own weight in liquid.
Though the poppy is prevalent as the symbolic plant of the two major conflicts of the 20th century, the humble sphagnum moss saved the lives of countless soldiers and should share the accolade.
Millions of sphagnum dressings were sent to hospitals in Europe during World War One.