Thursday, January 15, 2009

Usnea- I love you sweet little lichen

Usnea barbata

Usnea has been a plant I have been so pleased to get to know.
Also called 'Old Man's Beard'
This lichen is is a combination of two organisms: fungus and algae growing in symbiotic union as one plant.
Stephen Harrod Buhner in his book Sacred Plant Medicine
writes that as he spent time in the forest, and of course saw usnea, that it was useful for the respiratory system of the planet. You see, usnea hangs from trees, and usually on trees or parts of trees that have some problems. I usually see no life on the parts of the tree where usnea is hanging around.

Usnea is an amazing lung herb. This lichen works on bacteria, fungus and virus, and tones mucus membranes throughout the body.
Also known to have antibiotic properties making it useful for tuberculosis, pneumonia, colds, sinus issues, and gram positive conditions like strep or staph.
Usnea lichen contains usnic acid, which is antibiotic.
I have also read that it will keep second and third degree burns from becoming infected.
As a matter of fact, native peoples used the usnea as a natural bandaid or poultice on wounds. You can bunch several peices of usnea and place on a wound and usnea's anti microbial properties will begin its work.
Usnea has also been used for urinary tract infection, and also vaginal infections from trichonoma's or yeast. You would employ the usnea in a douche for vaginal infections, or possibly a bolus with ground usnea.

Referring back to Stephen Harrod Buhners work, he states the outer portion called the cortex is the antibiotic part. This is the grey-green matter we see on the outside.
That white strand inside is called the thallus which is immune stimulating.

He has said that clinically this has been used for varicose and tropic ulcers, ringworm and also lupus, as well as the other things already mentioned.
Other herbalists have used usnea successfully for eczema, cervical issues,asthma, ringworm and recovery from surgery.

No side effects have been reported for usnea although apparantly there was some dietary aids that contained isolated usnic acid along with other herbal isolated parts like yohimbine, caffeine, norephedrine which I might assume is an isolated constituent of ephedra(anyone know about that?)
that was pulled from the market because it was considered to be causing harm to liver cells in some people taking a product called Lipokinetix and actually caused some liver failure.

Once again we see the whole plant working synergistically and causing no harm, whereas isolated powerful parts thrown together from several plants for weight loss by increasing metabolism caused several cases of liver injury and some deaths.

I dont want to get off on a tangent, but just in case you read that usnea can be harmful, there are no known cases that I am aware of with any problems with whole usnea in tincture, or eaten.

I understand that usnea is difficult to tincture, so I am taking my hand at some everclear and about 30% water to add to extract its goodness.
My herb books dont have a whole lot of information about usnea, but from what I gather it is difficult to extract in a water base. Tea might be a challenge unless one makes a decoction.

So let me tell you why I am excited about usnea this year.
Well, first of all I have found it to be helpful to lung issues I have had this winter thus far. Sore, hot lungs. I worked with several herbs for this and finally decided to try usnea and HOO YA! That was what my lungs needed. It is amazing.

The other thing I notice is that this herb is good for systematic yeast. I have been battling systematic yeast since I underwent treatment for cervical cancer a couple years ago. Radiation therapy slammed me into menopause and since that time, my life changed quite a bit. Yeast became an issue to call my attention to everything I eat and drink. Usnea has helped me when I start feeling those twinges of wierdness I get when my body has too much. It will hurt in my reproductive tracts which is probably more my intestines, since due to surgery, everything is in a different place, and then also I feel off balanced, tired, and cranky. Once those symptoms come, I am relying on usnea to help.

I also use usnea in my shampoo bar. Since this health crisis a couple of years ago, my scalp really became rebellious in the cold weather. I have an interview on my blog that describes a bit of what I went through and how I created a shampoo bar this fall to work with dry and irritable scalp.
Usnea along with nettle, rosemary, and horsetail has been absolutely wonderful.
The shampoo bar is called Wild Mane if you want to read about that.
an interview about Wild Mane Shampoo Bar

Next year you will see usnea in some new salves I am working on.
I am really impressed by this little lichen and have first hand had good results with it.

And one of the best things I love is that these lichens often fall to the ground themselves. So take a walk in the trees and gather what has fallen and you will still have a good supply. Even in the winter, if you are getting lonely for the plants, bust a move out to the woods. It is even easier to find on the snow covered ground.

Happy Harvesting!

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