For hundreds of years, uses for sphagnum have been well-known. In Sweden, it was used to make coarse paper; in Germany it was mixed with wool and woven into a somewhat abrasive cloth. The Finns somehow made bread with it during famines. However, no one used it more than the Native Americans. Across Canada and in the Pacific Northwest, Indian women kept baskets of dried sphagnum to chink their wigwams or longhouses. They put it in gloves and footwear to act as insulation; They wove it into baskets, twisted it into candle wicks, scrubbed the slime and toxins off fish, put it in papoose carriers to act as a diaper, used it as toilet paper, and during menstruation.
And then, the United States went war.
As far back as 1513, at the battle of Flodden Field, highlanders staunched their wounds with sphagnum. The practice continued in various wars right up until the American John "Blackjack" Pershing realized we were ill-equipped to fight. The call went our for practically everything--including medical dressings, and that's where sphagnum came in: it replaced cotton. Let me explain.
The branches of sphagnum spread away from the stem and hang in clusters. The walls of the branches have large, clear, dead cells. The cells have pores, and the wall of each pore is punctures toward the outside. Each pore acts independently from the others and stores the fluids with which it comes in contact. A spring-like coil in the cell presses out and keeps it from collapsing. As a result, the plant has the ability to absorb up to twenty times its dry weight. Armed with this knowledge, the United States government appoint a Moss Czar--a man named Harry Smith. After touring the country, he determined that Pacific Coast moss was the best.
Thus began moss drives.
When a local newspaper announced a "moss drive," whole towns practically shut down. People took picnics, requisitioned vehicles, and headed out to gather moss which they took to large drying barns. Once dry, it went to groups who picked it clean so it could to make Pershing Packs.
A Pershing Pack consisted of layers of paper, moss, and a little cotton. The resultant "piles" were folded into various-sized dressings, sterilized in autoclaves, and sent to field hospitals. Because of moss's ability to soak up fluids, a Pershing Pack worked wonders on bleeding or suppurating wounds.
I always look down when I'm walking, especially in the woods. There are approximately 10,000 species of moss--all lovely to look at.
bwlauthors.blogspot.com karla stover