Usnea is a lichen. A lichen is a combination of an algae and a fungus living symbiotically or together. Also known as Old Man’s beard, it grows in hair-like tufts and depending on where it is growing, it can be short or quite long, literally dripping from the trees. The green algae covers the white string like fungus. The best way to identify Usnea is to pull a string apart and look for this white thread in the center. I have harvested this plant in South East Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and in the Upper Midwest. It grows in many other places and is said to be an indicator of air quality. If the air quality where it is growing is compromised, this lichen will likely disappear. Usnea can be foraged evening during the winter months. To view a video of John and I harvesting Usnea last winter click here.
The structure of this lichen is fascinating when you consider that it has a particular affinity for the respiratory system. The tubular nature of the lichen also has the signature for the hollow cavities that make up the sinuses as well as bronchial tubes.
Usnea is a very gentle, yet powerful immune tonic. Usnea is a systemic herb, and it can be ingested for long periods of time without effecting the gut flora. It is safe for children and animals and can be used along side or instead of Echinacea.
As I mentioned earlier, Usnea has a strong affinity for the respiratory system. It also supports the urinary system. I have found it to be invaluable for clearing up stubborn infections of these systems, particularly when other treatments are not working. I typically ingest this plant as a tincture or alcohol extract. You can also make a tea, but be sure to steep the herb over night. To learn to make an extract click here. I typically take 40-60 drops of Usnea tincture every two hours for acute infections and for longer term immune support 40 drops 2-3 times per day.