USA. Usnea spp., Wild Harvested
Common names: Tree Moss, Old Man’s Beard, Beard Moss, Beard, Lichen, Tree's Dandruff, Woman's Long Hair
Usnea spp., or Bearded Lichen, is a common type of lichen that grows on the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs throughout the world. Under good conditions, Usnea can reach 4-8 inches in length. Herbalists usually refer to “beard” lichens used in healing by the name of a well-known Eurasian species, Usnea barbata, although the closely related lichens collected in North America are more likely to be U. filipendula, U. longissima, or U. scabrata. All of these species are similar in appearance and contain usnic acid, a component providing many of Usnea’s medicinal actions.
Lichens are symbiotic organisms that unite a fungus and an alga. Usnea spp. incorporate fungus from the division Ascomycota and alga belonging to Chlorophyta. They require clean air to flourish, and are sometimes used as an indicator of air quality. Our current stock of Usnea was collected here in Bellingham, Washington, a small city with notably clean air. Since the alga needs light for photosynthesis, the lichen tends to thrive best on sick or dying trees, with fewer leaves to create shade; however, the lichen is not responsible for the trees’ poor condition.
Fungi, as a group, provide many antimicrobial and immune stimulating compounds. Since they tend to grow in moist environments where they must survive and compete with a wide range of other life forms (including other fungi), their chemical defenses are highly developed.
Traditional healers have made use of these capacities for millennia. Much of the herbal literature focuses on Usnea’s actions against bacteria and fungi. Traditional Chinese medicine employs Usnea spp. (Song Lo) for detoxification of the liver and treating malaria, wounds, snake bite, cough, and other conditions. It is said to be antispasmodic, and thus helpful in bronchitis, pleurisy, and spastic colon.
In addition to tinctures and salves, Usnea spp. and usnic acid have been used around the world in topical antiseptics, perfumes, cosmetics, toothpastes, mouthwashes, shampoos, deodorants, vaginal creams, foot care products, expectorants, sunscreens, etc.
Research with Usnea spp. and usnic has shown positive effects for treating bacterial and mycobacterial, fungal, viral, and protozoal infections, and relieving pain, inflammation, and fever. Studies have also demonstrated antioxidant activity, potential as an anti-cancer agent, and beneficial effects on weight gain, liver enzymes, platelet aggregation, and serum cholesterol and triglycerides.
Large amounts of usnic acid in weight loss formulas, taken for extended periods, have been implicated in liver damage and other complications. As with all physiologically active substances, dosage and timing are crucial for safe use.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.