Usnea Herb

By | April 9, 2014

The Usnea Herb is lichen utilized by Native American, European and Chinese cultures for hundreds of years for its powerful topical and internal properties. Usnea is classified as a phlegm-resolving herb and is best known for its antibiotic properties.

About Usnea


Usnea herb, known as Old Man’s beard, is lichen – a symbiotic fusion of fungus with algae. The presence of Usnea is inconspicuous, many people unaware the hair-like tufts hanging down from trees is one of the gentlest, strongest immune tonics in the herb world.

Several species of Usnea herb exist that differ in color as well as growth. Classifications are based on the length of the herb: tufts can grow up to a foot long in wet climates such as the Pacific Northwest while smaller, whereas other places may contain lichens that are difficult to see and reach; and by its colors such as white to yellow and green to grey, the level of green determined by the amount of chlorophyll in the algae.

Lichen is easiest to gather after a windstorm blows the Usnea off higher branches that contain greater amounts of the herb. Old orchards are ideal to harvest Usnea, which are easy to reach on low apple tree branches.

The cloth like appearance of Usnea resulted in primitive peoples first using the herb in topical applications. Usnea has both anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties, making it an ideal wound dressing.


Usnea is primarily known for anti-bacterial and immune system properties. Recently, it has been used as a component in skin creams and mouthwashes; manufactured into lozenges; and as expectorants for cough/cold symptoms.

Usnea’s antibiotic properties are suitable in the treatment of respiratory and sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, strep throat, colds, flu, bleeding, as well as urinary tract, kidney, and bladder infections.

Usnea is also beneficial for women with yeast infections, trichonomosas, bacterial vaginosis, and Chlamydia.

In addition to a short-term boost to the immune system, Usnea can off long-term immune enhancements in the treatment of chronic fatigue, HIV, herpes, thyroid cancer and other chronic ailments related to immune deficiency.

Homemade Tincture

Usnea herb is best prepared as a tincture or alcohol extract because the tough lichen is unsuitable for teas.

To make a tincture, you will need: a jar with lid, water, 100-proof Vodka and fresh Usnea.

  • Fill the jar with as much fresh Usnea herb as possible, without tightly packing the lichen into the container. Freshness is determined by dryness; lichen contains little water, making it hard to distinguish fresh from dry.
  • Fill the jar with 100-proof vodka; make sure the plant material is completely covered in alcohol.
  • Label the jar with date and contents.
  • Cover with a lid.
  • Leave the jar in a cabinet for six weeks.
  • Open, strain liquid, compost the Usnea and pour the brownish/orange extract back into the jar.

The tincture can be poured into smaller, amber dropper bottles for easier use or stored in the original jar.


Recently, Usnea has been used in weight-loss preparations with ill effects. Ingesting high quantities of the herb resulted in liver damage, liver failure and cerebral edema.

As with most lichens, ingesting significant quantities comes with risk and is not recommended.

As a topical agent, the Usnea herb has no known side effects or contraindications and is safe for children and animals.


The most popular and historic uses of the Usnea herb are topical. It is an effective short-term anti-biotic and expectorant agent for upper respiratory conditions such as bronchitis; as a topical and anti-fungal agent, it works well against yeast infections such as AthleteÂ’s foot and vaginal infections such as trichonomosas and Chlamydia. Usnea is also a common ingredient in mouthwashes, lozenges, skin creams and salves. Whether you make your own or buy from the store, be sure to remember this humble but powerful plant when the cold and flu season comes around this year, or any other time your immune system needs an extra boost.