Forbidden food: Scientist warns against licking ‘sexy pavement lichen’

Forbidden food: Scientist warns against licking'sexy pavement lichen'
Xanthoparmelia scabrosa or sexy pavement lichen is marketed as an aphrodisiac. Photo: Peter de Lange, iNaturalist, CCO via Newsroom

2018 was the year Tide pods swept the internet as a “forbidden food” prompting a multitude of hilarious memes and other online content. While you don’t need scientists to tell you not to eat the colorful laundry detergent pods, pavement fungi are the newest thing people have to be discouraged from eating.

New Zealand botanists rang alarm bells warning against the consumption of lichen that is found growing on pathways, rods and shaded rocks across the country. The warning follows the rapid spread of misinformation regarding the fungi’s stimulatory properties online.

Dr. Allison Knight, a lichenologist at the University of Otago dubbed the species of local lichen “sexy pavement lichen” otherwise known by its scientific name, Xanthoparmelia scabrosa. Dr. Knight coined the catchy name after finding out that it was being marketed as an organic alternative to Viagra online. Consumption of the lichen as a stimulant is especially popular in China.

While Dr. Knight confirmed that sexy pavement lichen could possibly have similar properties to Viagra, it is also “somewhat toxic”. Lichen found exposed in public areas are contaminated with inner-city waste such as animal urine and excrement, arsenic, mercury, lead, and car exhaust.

The fungi in question are endemic to New Zealand and the Pacific and is commonly found in urbanized areas. As reported by news outlet The Guardian, it is being sold in pill and powder form on Alibaba, a Chinese retailing website for USD12 to USD300 per kg.
Knight says that there are not enough tests to prove how effective it is as an aphrodisiac nor to prove its safety for human consumption.

What do you think about it?