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Usnea: The Medicinal Lichen with Many Healing Properties

The Bioregulatory Medicine Institute

Usnea on a tree branch

Have you ever looked up in the trees and wondered what the mossy, fringy, clumps hanging from the branches are? Usnea, also known as "Old Man's Beard" or "Tree Moss", is a genus of lichen that is commonly found growing on tree branches and bark in many areas of the world. Though they are strange in appearance, these humble lichens contain immense healing properties.


Usnea Includes Over 400 Species


The genus usnea includes over 400 species, some of which are found in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America. To identify usnea, gently pull apart the fringy strands and see if there is a flexible white core at its center. Usnea is the only lichen with a white core.


Usnea Is a Unique Medicinal Lichen


Usnea is a type of lichen; a symbiotic organism composed of a fungus and an algae, or a cyanobacterium. (Cyanobacteria are gram negative bacteria that use photosynthetic pigments, such as carotenoids, phycobilin’s, and various forms of chlorophyll, to absorb energy from light.)


Breath Deep in the Presence of Usnea


The fungus provides protection and structure for the photosynthetic partner, which produces carbohydrates to share with the fungus. This means that this lichen is not hurting the tree; it is in harmony with it. Furthermore, usnea will not grow where the air quality is poor. If you are in the presence of usnea, breathe deeply knowing that your air is usnea approved!


The Many Healing Properties of Usnea


Usnea contains usnic acid, which has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties and has been used for centuries for many ailments such as pneumonia, fever, colds, and skin infections. Unless taken in large doses, it is also known to be hepatoprotective.

Usnea’s appearance looks similar to that of the complex network of our lungs and bronchial tree. Unsurprisingly, it has also been used for tuberculosis. In folk medicine, usnea has a long history promoting general health and well-being.


The Various Forms of Usnea


Usnea can be utilized in various forms, such as tinctures, teas, and poultices. It may also be prepared in capsule form or as a powder. As a poultice, it can be applied topically to the skin for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, to help heal wounds and burns, and other skin conditions. You will often find it in birds’ nests and animals are known to eat it– and with good reason!


How to Make a Tincture of Usnea



This Is What You Will Need


Approximately 2 oz. of clean, dry, ethnically harvested usnea (not taken off the trees), a high-proof alcohol, cheesecloth, a pint-sized mason jar with a tight lid, a dropper bottle for storing the finished product.


How to Prepare


Fill a pint-sized mason jar with usnea, fill ¾ way with alcohol making sure that the usnea is completely submerged. Place the jar in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks. Invert the jar daily to help infuse the usnea into the alcohol. After at least 2 weeks of steeping, strain with a fine mesh cheesecloth, and put into smaller glass jars with droppers.


How to Use


Add a few drops to water, or to other healthy beverages, up to three times per day. This can be used for a variety of ailments, including sore throat, respiratory infections, skin irritations and more.


When you gaze up at the trees and observe this enchanting lichen, may you feel protected by its healing force. As it scatters itself to the ground, collecting it and making a tincture will provide one of the most useful additions to your apothecary.


References:

Apelian, Nicole. The Forager's Guide to Wild Foods: Edible Plants, Lichens, Mushrooms, and Seaweeds. Gray Bearded Green Beret, 2023.


Behera, B. C., Neeraj Verma, Anjali Sonone, and Urmila Makhija. "Antioxidant and antibacterial activities of lichen Usnea ghattensis in vitro." Biotechnology letters 27 (2005): 991-995.


Bhat, R., & Prashanth, D. (2015). A review on medicinal uses of Usnea species. International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, 6(2), B229-B236.


Gardner, M., & McGuffin, M. (2013). American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


Kumar, A., Saluja, D., & Sharma, A. (2013). Usnea longissima: A review on ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and pharmacology. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, 20(2), 152-155.


Liu, Z., Chen, Y., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Usnea: A versatile medicinal lichen. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 12(24), 10-17.


Verma, Neeraj, B. C. Behera, and Urmila Makhija. "Antioxidant and hepatoprotective activity of a lichen Usnea ghattensis in vitro." Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 151 (2008): 167-181.


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