Thursday, December 3, 2009

Native Plants: Usnea

When I went for my walk in the woods today, it was the first time I had been around the trail in a while... the rains and the cold make me look for more indoor projects. I felt disoriented at first by the now open, vast and dead-ness of the wooded area, I was beginning to feel a little nostalgic for the summer cause there was nothing but brown dead leaves to look at on the ground, and alot of briers to get caught on my clothes. Until I came upon a wonderful bright green lichen (a fuzzy wuzzy fungus) called Usnea! I learned about this plant many years ago at a "wellness weeds" class, that it was an herbal cure for strep throat, but I found my curiosity was peeked to really make sure this was the same usnea sold in health food stores and loved by wildcrafting herbalists.
So, while looking up info on identification, I found a neat trick in making sure it is really Usnea and not some other look alike lichen! Break open the main stem and check for a white middle, kinda like peeling the bark off a tree and seeing the lighter color inner wood underneath. Usnea's inner stem is a white strip. I broke mine open and found the white!

Here is some medicinal info on this cool little lichen:::

"Usnea has been used medicinally for at least 1000 years. Usnic acid (C18H16O7), a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent is found in most species. This, combined with the hairlike structure of the lichen, means that Usnea lent itself well to treating surface wounds when sterile gauze and modern antibiotics were unavailable. It is also edible and high in vitamin C.

In modern American herbal medicine, Usnea is primarily used in lung and upper respiratory tract infections, and urinary tract infections.

Usnea lichen is important to note because it has life-saving potential. Native Americans employed it as a compress to severe battle wounds to prevent infection and gangrene, and it was also taken internally to fight infections. Usnea contains potent antibiotics which can halt infection and are broad spectrum and effective against all gram-positive and tuberculosis bacterial species. Usnea has several unique characteristics which make its identification easy if stranded in the wilderness far from a hospital. "

Go here to read how to make your own Usnea tincture!



Mokihana and Pete said...

What a wonderful winter-time discovery. I think usnea or something similar lives back on the Ledge. I miss the wild of the Ledge and am comforted by your post ... i feel my shoulders drop, ahhh.
Thanks Woods Woman!


Panne said...

chew it fresh instead of using a tincture when you can. i never knew the name for it. the guy that taught me about it called it "old man's beard".

Wild Canary said...

Thanks for posting this info. I find it helpful. This is how I love to spend my time when able.