Friday, February 28, 2014


It's pale green, hangs from tree branches, smells like fresh mowed hay and feels like a scouring pad.  Usnea (aka Old Man's Beard, Tree's Dandruff or Woman's Long Hair) is a shaggy lichen that clings to the limbs of dead or dying trees in New Brunswick forests.   A thick, trailing growth of Usnea in the backwoods is a good sign, as it indicates an environment with untainted air quality.

"Usnea spp. at one time widespread and luxuriant almost entirely disappeared from a major area of England and Wales covering at least 68,000 sq. km. and at least 6000 sq. km. of Scotland, mainly as a result of the increase in atmospheric pollution."    - Batty/Halberg, "Ecology of Industrial Pollution," 2010

Following a windstorm that pruned some high branches, I collected a bag of the green wool and had fun making a disguise, a green, bushy beard for my old man.   I also crafted a nest, just to prove to the birds that it's possible to work with a material other than plastic.

 In a more serious application, Usnea can be made useful by adding vodka, letting it soak for six weeks and then straining the liquid.  Thirty drops of Usnea tincture mixed in half a cup of water equals a dose of antibiotic, an effective treatment for respiratory infections.   It is anti-microbial, anti-fungal, high in vitamin C and also contains usnic acid, a chemical currently being tested as an inhibitor of breast cancer cells.   

For medicinal purposes, add vodka and wait

More interesting information about this lichen is available at Walking the Wheel Project

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