New Zealanders warned not to eat ‘sexy pavement lichen'

Lowenna Waters
Friday 16 August 2019 12:15
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New Zealanders have been warned not to eat 'sexy' pavement lichen - yes, happy Friday, one and all.

Botanists in New Zealand have advised that while the native lichen, called Xanthoparmelia scabrosa, might have properties similar to Viagra, eating the lichen is likely to be dangerous, reports The Independent.

The lichen, if consumed after found outside or on the pavement, is also likely to be contaminated with hazards such as urine, exhaust fumes, or even lead, scientists have suggested.

Speaking to Newsroom, Dr Allison Knight, who is credited with coming up with the lichen's name, said:

This lichen contains a chemical somewhat analogous to Viagra and somewhat toxic. I always say in my talks that I don’t recommend going out and licking the footpath.

The lichen in question is native to New Zealand and the Pacific, mostly in urban areas, and there are hundreds of products that sell it in a powdered pill form on the Chinese online market place Alibaba, retailing between $12 - $300 per kilogram, reports the Guardian.

Knight coined the tongue-in-cheek name 'sexy pavement lichen' as a throwaway comment during a talk she gave to the Aukland Botanical Society a number of years ago, then the name stuck, reports The Independent.

Speaking to the Guardian, she said:

It hasn’t ever really been tested, and it is somewhat toxic, so it is not advisable to consume it. But it is a precursor to Viagra, however large quantities could indeed be very harmful.

She also added, however, that the lichen could have huge health benefits. Speaking to the paper, she said:

It doesn’t occur all over the world, it doesn’t even occur in China where all these vast quantities are coming from.

But lichen does have huge potential, and there is a lot of research underway to see how they can be used for the next generation of antibiotics to replace the ones we are becoming resistant too.​

There are about 20,000 varieties of lichen known worldwide, 2,000 of which are grown in New Zealand. Speaking to the Guardian, Knight said:

It is nice to focus people’s attention on lichens, I always say they are hidden in full view

They tend to be understudied and underreported. They’re under-recognised, and they’re very important because they are the colonisers they are the first things that will colonise bare rock. When life came out of the ocean … there was lichen. 

HT Huffington Post

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