Materia Medica no.1: Usnea


Introducing Materia Medica. A new series here on Cosmophilia. Each month, I will detail a new herbal medicinal to use in your arsenal. I am planning to launch each Materia Medica on the 1st of each month. April will be Usnea, check back in May to see what we choose! If you are interested in learning more herbal medicine, join the Facebook Group Turning of the Wheel Herbal Experiential with other Cosmophilia podcast listeners to discover and work with in depth, a new herb each season!

Usnea or Old Man’s Beard

High in carbohydrates and Vitamin C, Usnea has been used around the world in many different ways. Native American’s used it to dress wounds and there is record of it being used by the ancient Greeks and Chinese. A lichen of both fungi and algae, Usnea is great for respiratory and urinary systems. Use it to help heal respiratory and sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, strep throat, colds, flues, as well as urinary tract, kidney, and bladder infections. Usnea is also beneficial for women with yeast infections, trichonomosas, bacterial vaginosis, and chlamydia. It can be helpful for people with chronic fatigue, HIV, herpes, and other chronic conditions related with depressed immunity.

When considering the psycho-spiritual uses of Usnea, I myself have not had any experience with it. I found herbalist Sean Donahue has. He writes that Usnea is a medicine of the north, a bear medicine, with a strong affinity for the lungs. “From somewhere inside my chest, I heard the voice of the lichen speaking, telling me that the lichen would often grow in the places where the tree was wounded, that the wounds themselves called forth the medicine. A song began to rise inside me:

The wound is where the healing comes,
The wound is where the change begins!

Break on open and feel again,
Break on open and dream again,
Break on open and grow again,
Break on open and live again!

Usnea is calling on us to reawaken that wild darkness within us that can help us dream our way back into connection with the living Earth and let her work through us to help us remember ways of living that will let the forest breathe, grow, and thrive.”

“The wound is where the change begins” – Usnea through Sean Donahue

Information taken from herbalists Becky Lerner, Green Deane, Sean Donahue and Susun Weed.