Forget Me Not Herb Series: Usnea

by blog optimumhealthvitamins on April 30, 2013


Forget Me Not Herbs

A series extolling the virtues of valuable

but often overlooked herbs

By Jacqueline Spencer, health consultant at Optimum Health Vitamins


Usnea is lichen which can be found covering many trees, in the forested mountain regions of the Pacific Northwest growing abundantly in wet climates. Lichen “is a composite organism composed of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic partner”(1).  Its common names, Old Man’s Beard, Methuselah’s beard or Beard moss come from its gray-green fuzzy texture and its tendency to develop some length thus resembling a beard. It is also often simply referred to as Tree moss. Usnea species are numerous, with the herb often being identified only as Usnea sp. or usnea spp. A few species are usnea barbata, usnea filependula, and usnea longissima.

An immune system tonic, this herb also lends itself equally well in acute and chronic conditions supporting the immune system prophylactically or more actively as needed, dependent upon dosing. Without side effects or contraindications, it is considered a safe herb for children and animals. As with most things, there is always the possibility of an allergic response though this is unlikely.

Herbalists explain that all herbals exhibit a specific energy which then exerts a particular action. Usnea’s energy is considered cool, and dry which makes it useful for health conditions that exhibit the opposite energies of heat and damp. It also lends itself well to conditions of toxicity. It‘s bitter taste identifies it as a digestive herb and it has historically been used for indigestion. Fourteenth century practitioners believed this herb to be useful for health of the hair given its outward aspect.

Used by ancient peoples to treat infections, today Usnea serves in the natural treatment of infections, inflammations, ulcerations, and viral attack. It can be found in deodorants and soaps and can also be useful in cases of infections of the mouth and to encourage oral health. Lichen is known for its absorbency and Usnea is no exception, allowing its use as an absorbent material in wound dressings, feminine products and disposable diapers.

On chemical analyses the following have exhibited in Usnea species: depsides, depsidones, quinones, xanthones, naphthopyrones, pulvinic acid derivatives, diphenylethers, dibenzofurans, aliphatic acids, and terpenoids. Barbatic acid, diffractaic acid, evernic acid and usnic acid are also present in Usnea.

On record, in various medical publications, is a concern surrounding usnic acid (sodium usniate). The concern is that it may cause liver damage, a fear stemming from side effects directly related to the pharmaceutical product LipoKinetix, a weight reduction drug; the website therefore cautions against the oral use of usnea.

As mentioned in my previous article about White Willow bark, any time a single component of a natural substance is used without the benefit and support of its naturally occurring companion components, there is an increased risk of side effects. Usnea has been used safely for centuries, therefore under the direction of a skilled herbalist, naturopath or natural health practitioner there is little need for worry.



The above article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.


1) as defined by




Topics: Herbs

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