Usnea barbarata: Nature's antibiotic

Usnea barbarata (Old Man's Beard) is a type of lichen that grows on trees.  Though lichens appear to be single plants, they are really a combination of fungus and algae that grow together for their mutual benefit.  Usnea is an immune system tonic that can be used in acute situation as well as for long term immune enhancement and general prevention.  Be sure to remember this humble but powerful plant when cold and flu season comes around this year, or any other time your immune system needs an extra boost.  It has no side effects and is safe for children.
Usnea is one of the most powerful herbs we have for it's antibiotic, antiviral and antimicrobial properties.  It's use dates back to ancient China, where it was used for  cooling and overheated system and topically for surface infections.
Usnea has a preference for old growth trees and its habitat is being steadily eroded by modern logging practices.  The plant has a greyish green colour and grows as a busy mat from a few inches to two to three feet long hanging off the trunks and branches.  It feels dry and coarse.  Some species have an inner core of white material.  Please don't go climbing up an old growth tree on the island to pick this wonderful herb off the trees.  Usnea should be purchased from certified wild crafters who understand the ecological cycles and can identify the proper species for medicine making.

Actions and Constituents:
In the search for antibiotics, lichens were considered because of their strong antibiotic properties.  By 1944 it was found that as many as half the lichens studied contained lichen acids which exhibited variable antibiotic activity.  They are particularly active against gram positive bacteria such as streptococcus, staphylococcus and mycobacteria.

Constituents:  barbatolic, usnic, lobaric and tartaric acids.  The clinical application of usnea is as an anti fungal, anti parasitic, and antibacterial.  It is an immune regulator and supporter, boosting the immune system. Usnic acid and its derivatives appear to be the main active constituents in Usnea spp.  It is believed to work against gram positive bacteria by disrupting cell membrane functions.   Human cells are not permeable to usnic acid and so are not adversely affected.

Dosage: Traditional uses of Usnea include dusting the powdered herb directly onto open or infected wounds, making strong decoctions and tincturing the herb in alcohol.  As a tincture, it needs a high percentage of alcohol to dissolve the active ingredient usnic acid.

Adult dose:  5ml twice daily of a 1:4 70% tincture.
Children over 3 years:  15 drops once or twice daily.
(Tincture can be diluted some in hot water and left to sit to evaporate the alcohol if needed)
Earthmed Immune Tincture: this popular mixture contains usnea can be used to prevent a cold or flu and also in the first stages of a cold or flu:  5 ml daily
If you are acutely ill:  10 ml twice daily
If you are acutely ill with infection:  10-15 ml twice daily


There are no reported side effects of using the tincture.  Many herbalists consider it a safe herb to use in auto-immune conditions, where the immune system is over active. It is safe and effective to use with children.