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  • Writer's pictureSandy Eplett

Why Usnea Should Be a Staple in Your House

You're on a hike and you see some fallen limbs off the nearby tree. On that limb are hairy little mossy growths. You step in for a closer look. What is this? It feels dry and arid, a little whimsical if the air catches it just right.

The tree is full of it! You reach into your backpack and pull our your medicinal herb notebook, you sketch it and then you look into what this could possibly be.

It's Usnea, the worlds best cold and flu fighting herb on the planet! And, it grows on most North American trees for our benefit!

We are on Week 2 of our Beginner Herbal Series! Are you taking advantage of the live demonstrations? Check those out here.

What is this strange looking medicinal?

Usnea, commonly known as Old Man's Beard, is a type of lichen that grows on trees and branches in many parts of the world. Lichens are unique organisms composed of a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium living together in a symbiotic relationship. Usnea has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its potential health benefits. Here are some details about Usnea and its medicinal uses:

Appearance and Habitat: Usnea lichens often have a stringy, beard-like appearance, which gives rise to the common name "Old Man's Beard." They can range in color from pale gray to greenish-gray, and they typically hang from trees in long, thread-like strands. Usnea is commonly found in forests, particularly in areas with clean air and limited pollution.

Medicinal Uses: Usnea has been traditionally used for various medicinal purposes, primarily due to its potential antimicrobial and immune-supporting properties. Some of its uses include:

  1. Antimicrobial Effects: Usnea contains compounds known as usnic acid and other secondary metabolites that have demonstrated antimicrobial activity. It's often used as a topical antiseptic to clean wounds, cuts, and scrapes.

  2. Respiratory Support: Usnea has been used to support respiratory health. It's often included in herbal formulations or teas intended to help soothe coughs, sore throats, and respiratory infections.

  3. Immune System Support: Traditional herbal medicine systems suggest that Usnea can help stimulate the immune system. This property might contribute to its historical use for treating various infections.

  4. Urinary Tract Infections: Some herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners use Usnea for urinary tract infections due to its potential antimicrobial properties.

  5. Skin Conditions: Usnea's antimicrobial properties make it a candidate for addressing certain skin conditions, although scientific evidence is limited.

Forms of Usnea: Usnea can be used in various forms, including:

  • Tinctures: Usnea can be prepared as a tincture using alcohol, which extracts its medicinal compounds for internal or external use.

  • Teas: Dried Usnea can be used to make teas that are consumed for respiratory and immune support.

  • Topical Preparations: Infused oils, salves, or creams containing Usnea can be applied topically to wounds or skin conditions.

Cautions and Considerations:

  • Usnea contains usnic acid, which can be toxic in high doses. It's important to use Usnea under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional or herbalist.

  • Usnea can sometimes be contaminated with heavy metals or other pollutants if collected from polluted areas.

  • Individuals with allergies to lichen or its components should avoid using Usnea.

As with any herbal remedy, it's recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using Usnea, especially if you have underlying health conditions, are taking medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Herbal remedies should be used as complementary support to conventional medical care, not as a replacement.

When made into a tincture it can be taken orally when those cold symptoms hit you like an old truck on a bumpy, dirt road.

To harvest: go for a walk and notice your surrounding. Are there any fallen limbs? If so, get a close up view of it and look it over for that Old Man's Beard. If you find some, gently detach from the limb and stuff into your pocket. Go ahead, stuff as much as you can won't hurt it.

Next, keep walking! Being outside in nature is one of the BEST ways to combat viruses! Breath and walk...take your shoes off and do some grounding if possible. Spend time in gratitude for all you are and all you will become.

Once you get home, pull that hairy lichen out of your pocket and examine it. Look it over and see what makes it different from other lichens. After you have completed your discovery of this amazing herb it's time to get it steeping.

Here is your recipe: USNEA TINCTURE

Making a Usnea tincture involves extracting the medicinal compounds from the lichen using alcohol. Here's a basic recipe for preparing Usnea tincture:


  • Dried Usnea lichen

  • Alcohol (such as vodka or grain alcohol) with at least 40% alcohol content

  • Glass jar with a tight-fitting lid

  • Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer

  • Dark glass dropper bottles for storing the tincture


  1. Prepare the Usnea:

    • If you're using fresh Usnea, dry it thoroughly in a well-ventilated area until it's completely dry. Dried Usnea is also available from herbal suppliers.

  1. Measure the Ingredients:

    • Measure out the dried Usnea. A common ratio is 1 part Usnea to 5 parts alcohol, but you can adjust the ratio based on your preferences and needs.

  1. Combine Usnea and Alcohol:

    • Place the dried Usnea in a glass jar.

    • Pour the alcohol over the Usnea, making sure it's fully covered.

  1. Label and Seal:

    • Label the jar with the contents, date, and alcohol percentage.

    • Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid.

  1. Steeping Period:

    • Place the jar in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight.

    • Allow the mixture to steep for at least 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, the alcohol will extract the beneficial compounds from the Usnea.

  1. Shake Regularly:

    • Shake the jar gently every few days to help distribute the Usnea and promote extraction.

  1. Straining:

    • After the steeping period, strain the tincture to remove the Usnea. You can use a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer to separate the liquid from the plant material.

  1. Bottling:

    • Transfer the strained tincture into dark glass dropper bottles. Dark glass helps protect the tincture from light and preserves its potency.

  1. Label and Store:

    • Label the dropper bottles with the tincture's name, date, and any relevant dosage instructions.

    • Store the tincture in a cool, dark place. Properly stored tinctures can have a shelf life of several years.


  • Dosage can vary depending on factors such as the individual's health and the intended purpose of use. It's best to consult a qualified herbalist or healthcare professional for guidance on dosage.

  • To use the tincture, typically a few drops are taken under the tongue or diluted in water. Follow dosage recommendations provided by a knowledgeable source.

Safety Precautions:

  • Some people might be sensitive to Usnea or its compounds. Start with a small dose and observe for any adverse reactions.

  • If you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult a healthcare professional before using Usnea tincture.

  • Usnea tincture contains alcohol, which may not be suitable for certain individuals or conditions.

Remember that making herbal tinctures involves using alcohol, and it's important to use proper hygiene and sanitation practices during the preparation process. If you're new to herbal preparations, seeking guidance from a qualified herbalist can help ensure safe and effective use.

Now get to walking! Get outside and look for nature's farmacy. Your body will be glad you did.

Resilient & Wild~


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