Common Name: Beard lichen, old man's beard, witches hair
Part/s Used: Whole Lichen
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Taste: Astringent, bitter, sweet
Actions: Antibiotic, anti fungal, immunomodulator, vulnerary
Constituents: Usnic acid
Organ Affinity: Lungs, urinary tract
Herblore: Use as lucky charms or a floor wash. Indigenous north American traditions Usnea was believed to be the “lungs” of the earth because of its sacred relationship with the trees protecting them against infections
Tincture: 1:4 or 1:5 95% Dry (ratio & % alcohol): 1:10 70%
Drops: 30-90 Times a day: 4x
Simmer usnea in alcohol for 30-60 min and cool. Must use heat to extract usnic acid
Tea: Strong decoction Ounces: 8-12 Times a day: 3-4x
Usnea is not a plant, but a lichen, a symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungus. Usnea can be found worldwide with localized concentrations of individual species. Moss like in nature, it can be found hanging on the branches of conifers, oaks, fruit trees throughout the northern hemisphere and prolifically in the PNW as it prefers moist habitat with high humidity, fog or rain. Usnea lichen has long, flexible gray green threads and readily identifiable by its elastic central cord running through the middle. A characteristic unique to this genus.
Usnea is energetically cooling and drying and can be used at the first signs of heat, inflammation, and infection. The constituent usnic acid is found in all lichens contains of anti-microbial and antibiotic properties which makes it a great addition to your home apothecary. Usnea has an affinity to the lungs. It has an ability to relax smooth muscles, especially in the bronchi for colds, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis. Usnea contains immune modulating polysaccharides beneficial for lingering coughs and colds. Usnea disrupts the cellular mechanics of gram-positive bacteria like streptococcus and staphylococcus but leaves our natural microbiota unharmed. There is little to no effect with gram-negative bacteria such as e coli.
Usnea also has an affinity for the urinary tract. Its anti-septic properties disinfect but contain no resins and tannins that can irritate or exacerbate infections. Usnea has a diuretic effect and strong antibacterial properties that help issues like bacterial vaginosis. Usnea should be consumed internally as well as externally with sitz bath in these circumstances. It can be used in the same way for its anti-fungal properties on the skin and genitals. Common female reproductive imbalances like vaginal candida and combines well with yerba Santa or sweet root and other strong anti-fungal in tea or tincture form taken internally and added to the bath. Usnea is beneficial following the use antibiotics to prevent the growth of candida. When preparing a douche, soak the usnea in alcohol then decoct in water (or 1/2 oz tincture to16 oz water). Strain well. The common name old man’s beard or witch’s hair points both to its appearance and to its use, following the doctrine of signatures as a tonic to the hair and the scalp. Useful for dandruff, cradle cap, beard rot, crotch rot and jock itch.
Usnea is a vulnerary and an overall all-purpose first aid remedy. All usnea species can be used interchangeably. To use usnea on a wound, dilute the tincture, use the powdered herb, prepare a wash made from tea, or in a salve.
Harvest the entire thallus of the lichen at any time of year hanging from the branches and trunks of their tree hosts. Lichens are very slow growing so as a sustainable practice, the intact lichen should be collected from the forest floor after heavy winds, leaving what remains in the trees to continue to grow. Recently fallen or partially dried material is generally considered fresh because of its strong antibiotic and antibacterial properties. Be sure to harvest away from roadsides as lichens are accumulators of heavy metals. They are pollution sensitive and are not found growing significantly in cities for this reason. An abundance of lichen is often an indicator for the environmental health of the area.
Usnea should be used with caution as it does have some fever suppressing attributes. Little to no effect on gram – bacteria. When simmering alcohol to prepare tincture it is best to use an electric stove. There have been some reports that’s the constituent usnic acid may cause hepatoxicity, but the evidence is inconclusive.
Northwest School for Botanical Studies by Christa Sinadinos
The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra
Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner
Evolutionary herbalism Vitalist herbal practitioner program by Sajah Popham
Medicinal pants of the Pacific northwest by Michael Moore