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Botanical Name

Usnea spp.

Common Name

Usnea, beard lichen, old man’s beard, beard moss, tree moss, Methuselah’s beard



Parts Used

The entire thallus (lichen body) is used .

Native To

Usnea barbata is native to North America, along with several dozen other Usnea species. Native Usnea species are found on all continents, including Antarctica

Harvesting Guidelines

When harvesting willow, it's important to do so in a sustainable and responsible manner. Instead of taking from live trees, focus on collecting lichens that grow on fallen limbs and trees. This is especially important for rare species like Usnea longissima and U. barbata. After heavy winds, intact lichen can be easily collected from the forest floor while leaving the remaining lichen on the trees to continue growing. It's best to collect recently fallen or partially dried material, as research has shown that usnea and other lichens can continue to photosynthesize and produce bioactive metabolites for up to 12 weeks without water. The entire thallus of the lichen can be harvested at any time of year. By wildcrafting judiciously, we can ensure the sustainability of this valuable resource. (1)


Usnea is a type of lichen that belongs to the fruticose category, meaning it has a shrubby or hanging appearance. Lichens are unique organisms that consist of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. This combination allows for photosynthesis and the ability to withstand extreme environmental conditions that many other plants cannot tolerate. Lichens are classified based on the morphology of the fungal partner, with crustose, foliose, and fruticose being the three main categories. Usnea is a fascinating example of the diversity found within the world of lichens. (1)

Identifying specific species within the Usnea genus can be a challenging task due to the complexity and overlap of their characteristics. Geographical origin was once used to classify different species, but it was later discovered that some of these species were actually identical. The Usnea genus is particularly difficult to identify as many species have varying physical appearances and chemical compositions, with different phenotypes and chemotypes appearing in different environments. Despite these challenges, researchers continue to study and classify the various species within the Usnea genus. (2)

Usnea, a type of lichen, is a valuable herb for herbalists due to its interchangeable use among all species. Usnea contains important polysaccharides and phenolics, as well as usnic acid, which has been found in all Usnea species. This makes it a versatile and reliable herb for various medicinal purposes.

Usnea, a type of lichen, has a rich history of use in various cultures around the world. Lichens have been used as a source of food, herbs, and dyes, as well as in spiritual and ritual practices. Usnea, in particular, is the most commonly used genus of lichen. During times of famine or scarcity, lichens were used as a food source and are still a part of the diet in some ethnic groups in Eastern Nepal.

Usnea, has a long history of use in traditional medicine across the globe. From South America to Asia to Africa, usnea has been used to treat wounds and infections, particularly in the respiratory and genitourinary systems. It can be applied topically as a powder or decoction, or taken internally in decoctions or infusions. In some cultures, usnea is also used in smoking blends or intravaginal suppositories. In certain parts of Tibet and Nepal, usnea is used both herbally and ritually, as these traditions do not rigidly distinguish between spiritual and herbal health practices. (3)

Usnea has been used in traditional herbal medicine for its antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. In Western herbalism, it is commonly used topically or internally to treat infections in the urinary, respiratory, and genital systems. It has been used to treat a variety of infections, including urinary tract, sinus, respiratory, and fungal infections. In Germany, usnea is approved for use in treating mild inflammation of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa, while in Canada it is licensed for easing upper respiratory infections such as the common cold. (4)

Taken in total, pharmacologic and clinical research data strongly supports the use of usnea as a broadly antimicrobial herb, with demonstrated effectiveness against a spectrum of bacteria, and some viruses, fungi, and mycobacteria. The combination of immune enhancement with direct antimicrobial effect suggests use of usnea as a potent antibiotic agent.

Usnea has been the subject of limited clinical research, with most studies focusing on its isolated extract of usnic acid. One study found that an oral rinse containing usnic acid was effective in reducing the growth of S. mutans bacteria without harming beneficial oral flora. Another study involving 100 women with genital HPV lesions found that an usnic acid and zinc sulfate preparation used as adjuvant therapy with radioablation resulted in improved healing and re-epithelialization of lesions and decreased infection compared to radiosurgery alone. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of usnea and its components. (5)


Adult Dose (6)

Decoction: Up to 10 g dried herb/day

Tincture: 1-5 mL (1:5, 50%) 3-5x/day

Topical: Powdered herb applied liberally, or tincture diluted 1:1 in water as a topical wash for skin infections. Vaginal douche: ½ oz. tincture in 16 fl oz water; apply 2x/day for 3 days. Nasal spray: 10 drops tincture in 1 fl oz water; apply as needed with a nasal spray applicator


Usnea has been deemed safe for use by the American Herbal Products Association. It has a long history of safe use and no known interactions with other herbs or drugs. However, there is limited information on its safety during pregnancy and lactation. While there have been no reported adverse events, there is also no conclusive evidence of its safety. In traditional Unani medicine, usnea has been used to stimulate menstruation when taken orally or intravaginally, so it is recommended to avoid use during pregnancy.





(1) Masé, G. (2014). Materia medica: Usnea. Personal collection of Guido Masé, Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, Montpelier, VT.

(2) Oksanen, I. (2006). Ecological and biotechnological aspects of lichens. Applied Microbiological Biotechnology, 73, 723-734.

(3) Crawford, S.D. (2015). Lichens used in traditional medicine. In B. Ranković (Ed.), Lichen secondary metabolites (pp. 27-80). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

(4) Blumenthal, M., Goldberg, A., & Brinckmann, J. (Eds.). (2000). Herbal medicine: Expanded Commission E monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council.

(5) Buhner, S. (2012). Herbal antibiotics: Natural alternatives for treating drug-resistant bacteria (2nd ed.). North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

(6) Hobbs, C. (1990). Usnea: The herbal antibiotics and other medicinal lichens (3rd ed.). Capitola, CA: Botanica Press.


Scientific Research:


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