Block of the Week: Moss Stone
Don't moss out on this block!
The best block to unexpectedly encounter when deep in a mining expedition is undoubtedly diamond ore. But the second best? I'd put forward our block of the week as a candidate - moss stone.
Hear me out! I say that because mining into a vein of moss stone almost certainly means that you've encountered a dungeon - a small, naturally-generated structure containing a chest or two full of goodies and a monster spawner. The goodies can include everything from rotten flesh (great?) to saddles (great!), nametags (greater!) and horse armour (GREATNESS OVERLOAD), while the spawner (don't break it!) can be used to make a mob farm.
Moss stone was added to Minecraft in the very earliest days of the game in the same update that gave us iron, TNT, bookshelves and obsidian. During the game's Indev phase, the player first spawned in a small house made of moss stone, and later on the block was also used in the construction of jungle temples and zombie villages.
The ability to craft moss stone blocks was added in version 1.8 - it's a pretty simple recipe consisting of just cobblestone and vines. In turn, moss stone can also be crafted into mossy cobblestone walls - which are made just like regular cobblestone walls but look, er, a bit mossier.
In the real world, you've probably noticed that mossy stone is much easier to find than it is in Minecraft. Mosses are small, flowerless plants that tend to grow in clumps in dark or shady places. There are more than 12,000 different kinds of moss - most of which tend to be pretty small as plants go, but one particular species - named Dawsonia - can grow to 50cm in height!
Before modern times, moss was a pretty valuable resource. Some cultures used it for bedding, while others employed it as insulation in both houses and boots. Ötzi the Iceman - the naturally-preserved remains of a man who lived more than 5,000 years ago in the Alps - was wearing moss-filled boots when he died. Some cultures even used it like a sponge to soak up liquids - North American tribal people used moss as nappies and sanitary towels, and it was used to dress wounds as late as the First World War.
Today, moss has been replaced by newer materials in most of those situations. But there's still a booming market for mosses gathered from the wild - mostly in floristry and home decoration. Other uses include the creation of peat, which is used as a fuel and in the creation of Scotch whisky. In Mexico, it's used as a Christmas decoration.
But we might only be scratching the surface of what moss can do for us. Biotechnologists have found that some kinds of moss can improve human health, or the growth of crops. It's even possible to brew complex pharmaceuticals in moss bioreactors. With that in mind, you should probably hoard all the moss stone you can find in Minecraft - it might be useful some day...