Usnea, (ooh- sney- uh) also called old woman's beard. is an amazing and wildly cool looking lichen.
Lichens are an algae fungus combination. Usnea is an incredible medicinal, an easy to make yourself medicine, and a good ally to have on hand for the times of living during a viral pandemic.
Where can you find usnea and sustainable harvesting practices:
Usnea can be found all over the world. It likes to grow in moist environments and places with clean air. The trees that host it are coniferous trees like pine, juniper, and spruce as well as on hardwoods like oak, walnut, hickory, pear, and apple.
You can tell its the real deal usnea if you gently pull on a strand of it and there's a white thread looking core. (I posted a video on my instagram page here)
I alway feel the need to vouch for the plants and send out a reminder about sustainable harvesting practices.
For this lichen, which is relatively slow growing, you never want to harvest directly from the trees. The only way I harvest it is off of fallen limbs after a good wind. I also never harvest the entirety of anything. My rule is to take less that 1/3 of any aerial plant (less that 1/5 for roots)- not only for proper seed distribution and natural composting, but for the energetics of having regard for the natural world and not being a greedy jerk.
You also definitely need to consider the cleanliness of the area. Usnea is a bioaccumulator so if you're harvesting from a toxic place you are making toxic medicine.
Is it close to the road where fumes and roadway dust settle? does the area have any industrial or farm runoff going to it? do dogs pee there? Be mindful of where you are harvesting. If you wouldn't eat some violets, or ground foliage then its not clean enough to gather medicine from.
The medicine of unsea:
Usnea is very a very valuable medicine to keep in your home apothecary. She is an anti- gal.
-Its an antibiotic against gram positive bacteria (here's link to the difference between gram+ and gram-)
-Vulnerary (an herb used for wound healing)(I am a fan of fancy words used to describe plant actions)
Usnea can be used both internally as a tincture or externally as a salve or compress.
Some specific treatments include; staph, strep, wound healing, sore throat, and fungal infections. Anything with heat and dampness.
Usnea has a special affinity for:
-kidney and bladder infections
Because usnea is antimicrobial it is a wonderful medicine for all types of pathogens. Most pharmacuetical antibiotics destroy all bacteria, including the good ones, but usnea and its anti-biotic properties do not kill of good bacterial and gut flora.
Usnea, if used as a whole plant medicine, has no known side effects but should not be used during pregnancy.
How to make an Usnea dual extraction:
Since usnea is a lichen it needs to be extracted 2 way to get its full range of medicinal benefits. Some properties are alcohol and water soluble and some are heat soluble.
What will you need?
-a clean jar with lid
-usnea lichen (fresh and wilted or dried)
-alcohol of choice (50% strength I always tincture in 100 proof non GMO Swedish vodka)
-good drinking water
- a small pot for stovetop use
-amber glass bottle for storing finished tincture
You want to tincture unseat at a1:5 ratio. For example, if you have 3 ounces of usnea then you will use 15 ounces of 50 percent alcohol.
You guys, this is so easy -I love sharing with you how accessible it is to make your own medicine!
Chop up or grind usnea and add to clean jar. Pour in alcohol.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place for 2-6 weeks. The medicine will be ready for the next step in as soon as 2 weeks but will continue to gain potency if left longer.
For the second extraction:
Strain plant matter from alcohol through a wire strainer and cheese cloth.
Put alcohol in a lidded jar and set aside. Put plant matter in small pot.
Add the same amount of water to the pot that you used for the alcohol extraction. For example, if you used 15 ounces of alcohol in your tincture then add 15 ounces of water.
Simmer on very low temp until 2/3 of the water has cooked out. If you are using 15 ounces of water you should be left with about 5 ounces of "tea".
Strain the plant matter from the water in the same way as before. Compost plant matter with gratitude. Add remaining "tea" into the jar of tincture. You will have 20 ounces of tincture if you used the same measurements as the example. Your completed medicine will be about 39% alcohol.
You now have a full spectrum usnea tincture!!! YAY!!! How easy was that?!?!
Store it in an amber glass bottle for the longest shelf life and most potent medicine. Sunshine degrades the healing properties of plants in storage.
So, now that you know how awesome usnea is and what an ally it could be for you and those you love in times of sickness and during times of global scare for pandemic, I hope that you, with deep reverence for our mama earth, go out and gather some lichens and make some good medicine.
Alana House is a trained herbalist, forager, medicine maker, and plant person.