Monday, September 9, 2013


Usnea-Usnea Barbata

Also known as:  beard lichen, old man's beard, witch's hair, tree's dandruff, woman's long hair, tree moss

Parts Used:  whole plant

Meridians/Organs affected:  lungs, skin, immune system

Properties:  antibiotic, antifungal, antimicrobial, tuberculostatic

Usnea is a member of the lichen family (no not the werewold lycan, but the plant lichen).  It is a symbol of the relationship between fungus and algae and is quite a powerful moss-like plant.  There are four species of usnea in the western united states and they all look a lot alike.  They are usually found on the bark of trees, whether the tree is alive or not.  It is a grayish green color and stays that way throughout its lifespan.  It can be easily identified simply by pulling apart the main stem, as there will be a white thread at its center.  It is found all over the forests of temperate north America.  It ranges in size as well, from small bunches to large hanging clumps and when it is wet that inner thread acts much like a rubber band (it stretches).  This inner cord is an amazing immuno-stimulant while the outer shell has strong antibiotic capabilities.

Usnea has been used medicinally since 1600 BC.  At that time it was used by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Chinese.  The Chinese still use it today for tuberculosis.  Modern technology has actually proven this herb to be effective against a host of viruses and bacteria-such as pneumonia, strep, staph, candida, trichomonas, etc.  It is thought to be effective against gram positive bacteria only, however, recent studies have shown it to be effective against some gram negative bacteria as well such as salmonella and E. Coli.  More studies are being conducted to see how far its healing abilities branch out.  In 52 species of lichen that were tested, all of them were shown to be effective against bacterial growth.  It has also been shown to be more effective than penicillin against some bacterias.  Usnea (all varieties) contains usnic acid, protlichesterinic acid and several other components that make it a force to be reckoned with. 

During the middle ages it was used to treat lung diseases and scalp maladies.  Interesting how much this plant resembles a lung whish would explain some of its uses according to the Doctrine of Signatures.  In Scandanavian countries it has been used as a wash for bathing infants chapped skin.  It seems to be very helpful for an array of skin conditions as its main component-usnic acid-is used in a variety of commercial ointments for skin issues.  It has also shown the ability to shrink or dissolve tumors in animal studies.  It has been used for inflamed mucous membranes, whooping cough, water retention, abscesses, vaginal and fungal infections, etc.  One of the oldest traditional uses for this plant is soaking it in garlic juice and applying it to large open wounds.  It has also been used for making dyes (yellow, blue, green, orange and purple dyes) and in cosmetics as a deodorant and a preservative.

Usnea has also been used as an edible but it is extremely bitter so that is not the best use for this plant.  Usnea is only partially water soluble so it need to go through a process before adding water to it to help free up its most medicinal capabilities.  As it is a very powerful plant it can irritate the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth and so it should be diluted in water or juice (if using the tincture) before consuming.  Usnea has shown sensitivity to pollution especially heavy metals (it will absorb heavy metals from pollution, exhaust, etc.) so if gathering this herb it should be done away from populated areas and heavily traveled thoroughfares.

As is custom with my posts, I am including some links below regarding this herb.  Use them as you deem appropriate.

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