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Plant Family: 

Usnea is part of the Parmeliaceae family, which is the largest group of lichen-forming fungi (Parmeliaceae, n.d.). Some have argued that Usnea should have their own family called the Usneaceae due to their biological uniqueness and a large number of Usnea species (over 600), but this separate family is not recognized as scientifically accurate (Buhner, 2012).


Habitat & Cultivation: 

Usnea grows in nearly every forest of orchard if you look for it. Easily identifiable by its “hair-like” appearance. It is commonly referred to as “old-man’s beard”. This grey-green lichen grows from a single stem, and one of the key identification tools is to break apart one of the threads to find a white string-like cord inside. If herb is powdered it should be greenish in color (outer sheath: highly antibacterial) with bundles of white threads (inner cortex: immune stimulating and water soluble). If herb is in whole lichen form, lichen should be yellow-green in color at varying length, when broken in half white strands of inner cortex should be identifiable (Buhner, 1999).


Parts Used/Collection:

Usnea is both algae, fungus and/or cyanobacteria growing together in a symbiotic relationship. Traditionally Usnea has been used in Chinese medicine for over 3000 years and for many hundreds of years in other cultures. It has many uses including treatment of TB and bronchitis, vaginal infections and wound dressings as it has been shown to have antibacterial properties.


Herbal Actions:

  • Immune stimulating

  • Antibacterial

  • Antifungal

  • Antiparasitic

  • Antiviral

  • Analgesic

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Antioxidant

  • Antineoplastic

  • Antimitotic

  • Antiprotozoal

  • Antiseptic

  • Antiproliferative

  • Inhibitor of biofilm formation

  • Synergistic with clindamycin tx (H. pylori)



  • Gram-positive skin infections

  • Vaginal infections

  • GI tract infections

  • Throat infections

  • Fungal skin infections

  • Resistant bronchial and pulmonary infections

  • TB

  • Conjunctivitis

  • Superficial skin wounds



Buhner, et al., (1999), states that Usnea should not be used internally during pregnancy. Usnea may cause atopic dermatitis when used externally. However, according to the AHPA, there are no known contraindications, and no available information on the safety of Usnea use during pregnancy and lactation.


Plant Constituents:

The phytochemistry behind Usnea’s antimicrobial property is due to usnic acid. It is considered to be broad spectrum because it can be used to treat bacterial and fungal infections and it also has analgesic actions. Usnea also has other constituents that are antimicrobial: vulpinic acid and hirtusneanoside.  (Buhner, 2012).


System Affinities:




Dry, clear, rough, mobile



  • Tincture: (prepared by provider)

    • First, grind and heat the herb (low-heat slow cooker for 48 hrs) in the water to be used for the tincture (to extract antibacterial polysaccharides) then use a ratio of 1:5, the liquid being composed of half water, half pure grain alcohol. Let sit for 2 weeks, then strain and bottle 

    • Take 30-60 drops up to 4x/day, or for an acute condition: ½ - 1 tsp, 3-6x/day

  • Tea:

    • Combine 1 tsp herb with 6 oz hot water

      • Usnea is only partially water soluble - grind the herb and pour alcohol over it, just enough to cover and let sit for 30-60 mins, then add hot water and steep for 15-30 mins (Buhner, p.200).

    • Drink up to 1 quart per day for an acute infection (Buhner, p.200).




Personal Experience:

I sampled usnea in a hot decoction, it smelled great and savory, resembled seaweed.  It was mostly clear with a light yellow color and had a strong flavor, very bitter and slightly sour. I didn't care for this at all. 



Buhner, S. H., Foreword, J. D. A., Buhne, S. H., & Duke, J. A. (1999). Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria. Los Angeles, CA, United States: Storey Books


Buhner, S. (2012). Herbal antibiotics (2nd ed.). North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, LLC.


Usnea (Usnea spp.)

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