Using moss for wound dressings or babies’ nappies might sound a bit unhygienic. However, Sphagnum moss, which covers more of the Earth’s land surface than any other plant, is both superabsorbent and naturally antiseptic. These unique properties made Sphagnum the wound dressing of choice for over a 1000 years, and a shortage of bandages during the Great War (1914-1918) led to renewed interest in this remarkable plant. Sphagnum leaves (seen here using a light microscope) contain many dead, empty cells surrounded by a capillary-like network of living, green cells. The empty cells are dotted with tiny pores and can suck up and hold water, like a sponge. Sphagnum moss also lowers the pH of the surrounding environment, largely thanks to a cell-wall polysaccharide [carbohydrate] called sphagnan. This acidity inhibits the growth of microorganisms, reducing the chance of wound infection.
Written by Sarah McLusky
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