USNEA – A Lichen
By Jeanne Rose ~ 2-28-23
Usnea Lichen, Usnea barbata grows all over the world. It is very sensitive to air pollution and might even be a pollution indicator plant.
It is a cultivated lichen/herb, and the CO2 is extracted in Germany. Usnea herb is an extremely useful antimicrobial, and antifungal, is used internally and externally, and the herb and its tincture are effective on the lungs and used in skincare. It is often used to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Usnea is somewhat anti-inflammatory and analgesic. The plant itself is also used to create attractive dyes.
The oil is an interesting deep non-volatile note and rich deep low-intensity, high-tenacity odor for perfume blends and acts as a fixative in a blend or perfume.
USNEA LICHEN (Usnea barbata) is the common name and the Latin binomial of a commonly seen ‘moss’ that hangs in the trees. Other common names include Old Man’s Beard, Beard Lichen, Beard Moss, Moose Moss, and Tree Moss (although it is NOT a moss). This lichen, (a symbiotic combination of algae and a fungus) belongs to the Family ~ of Parmeliaceae. The common names pretty well describe the appearance of Usnea. It resembles Spanish Moss, however, the two are not related.
COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ commonly known, the medicinal herb Usnea barbata is indigenous to the northern hemisphere; there are over 300 species of Usnea.
ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ Some species are now extinct or threatened in Europe. U. barbata is extinct in Finland and threatened in the Czech Republic.
CONTRAINDICATIONS ~ It is suggested that Usnea not be used as a food or dietary supplement because of liver toxicity related to the content of usnic acid.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ Lichens grow on trees that look like a single plant but are, in fact primarily algae and fungi. Usnea is a genus of mostly pale grayish-green fruticose (having often branched thallus) lichens that are without leaves, with tassel-like ‘threads’ that anchor on the bark or the tree twigs.
Pine lichen and moss – Golden Gate Park
PORTION OF PLANT USED FOR EXTRACTION, EXTRACTION METHODS ~ The entire plant is harvested and extracted by CO2 in Germany. Flaking and cutting + grinding of the lichen enabled the highest extraction yield.1
Source ~ This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS of Usnea
Color ………………….. greenish-gray
Clarity ……………….. Opaque
Viscosity ……………. Semi-viscous
Intensity of odor ……….1
Tenacity …………….. 5-6
Intensity scale guide to gauge the Intensity of odor: On a scale of 1-10 if Usnea is a 1, Lavender a 2, Tea Tree a 5, Mastic about 5-6, and Cinnamon or Massoia is 8.
Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment ~ I have completed several odor profiles and odor snapshots of Usnea (one is at the end of this piece) and truly enjoy this soft, woody, floral, and somewhat fatty odor. It works well in any perfume to enhance the woody and floral notes.
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GENERAL PROPERTIES of Usnea
Usnea barbata has been used in cosmetic products for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties as a preservative and deodorant. Usnea is a useful antimicrobial in both internal and external applications, especially effective on the lungs and skin. Included in products to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. All of my resources stress its antibacterial properties.
It is reported to be an effective treatment for pneumonia, bronchitis, staph, strep, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections. I have successfully used it to prevent and treat colds and flu. It boosts the immune system and can be used like echinacea. Another great thing about Usnea is that it has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Properties and Uses ~ Medical claims.
According to Paul Bergner, Author of Medical Herbalism. “The usnic acid in Usnea is effective against gram-positive bacteria such as Streptococcus and Staphylococcus, making Usnea a valuable addition to herbal formulas for sore throats and skin infections. It is also effective against a bacterium that commonly causes pneumonia”. There is reason to believe that in high concentrations, Usnea could possess some toxicity.
COSMETICS & SKIN CARE ~ Usnea barbata has been used in cosmetic and personal-care products for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties as it is a co-preservative and deodorant. Use only a preservative-free Usnea, preferably one that you have made yourself for your products, lotions, creams, or salves. It has strong anti-microbe effects and can be used in products against body odor, hair products for dandruff or scruffy scalp, and in applications for skin blemishes.
Diffuse/Diffusion ~ Emotional/Energetic Use ~ The mystery of aromatherapy —Get to know the elusive essence that can create such a variety of emotional and physical changes.
BLENDING & PERFUMERY Usnea Lichen is cultivated from Usnea barbata, and the CO2 is extracted in Germany. It is an attractive deep non-volatile note and rich deep odor for perfume blends. Acts as a fixative in a combination or perfume.
OTHER lichens used in Perfumery are
OAKMOSS: Evernia prunastri (Usneaceae). Oakmoss is solvent extracted, light Brown in color, opaque, medium viscous, and often used in Perfumery as a Base. It is a rich, earthy, woody scent that adds to the smell of the forest with its woody odor. Despite its name, Oakmoss is not a moss but a lichen, somewhat resinous, growing on the bark of deciduous and coniferous trees. Baskets filled with it have been found in the ancient royal tombs of Egypt, but whether it was intended for perfume is unknown.
TREEMOSS (Mousse d’arbre) Treemoss derivatives (concretes, absolutes) are mainly prepared from the lichen species Pseudevernia furfuracea (L.) Zopf. with Usnea barbata and other species often co-gathered in. These tree lichens can be found living on the barks of firs and pines in Southern and Central Europe, including and France and Morocco, & Balkan countries, including former Yugoslavia. Fragrant Treemoss products are prepared similarly to the practice of Oakmoss. Tree moss products are generally considered inferior to Oakmoss products and are often lower in price.
USNEA blends best with florals and woody odors as it is tenacious in a perfume but of low intensity. It deepens floral odors.
Here is one Floral Perfume using Usnea in the base note.
HYDROSOL: Do not make a hydrosol of this plant, as too much must be picked for an effective distillation. This is a plant that should be used in its pure herbal form.
HERBAL USES OF USNEA ~ Usnea herb is used to prevent or treat infections. I have taken 8-10 drops of the tincture (made with neutral grain spirits) and diluted it in 2 X water and take this two to three times daily. I have also added Usnea to herbal mixtures to make teas, and cough drops.
To be effective, Usnea tincture should be macerated*/soaked in slowly warmed alcohol. Stuff a sturdy wide-mouth glass canning jar/container with Usnea lichen and then fill it with 75% neutral-grain alcohol**. Close the jar. Some people suggest that the jar be closed tightly. Alcohol can be dangerous to use, and you don’t want to place it directly on the stove. Put the jar into a deep container and place both in the sink. [you are making a bain marie, but in a sink]. Now macerate the Usnea for up to 48 hours. Do this by filling the larger container with hot water from the tap and keep changing out the water and keep refilling with ever hotter water until you can use water that has been heated on the stove. This will allow the Usnea-filled canning jar to warm up slowly. Add some hot water every few minutes until you can cover the jar to above-the-jars-shoulder with hot water. Now let the Usnea macerate** (soak and warm up slowly) in the now warm-to-hot alcohol. Let it sit until the water has cooled naturally or at least 24 hours. When it is totally cool, remove the jar from the outer container. Check the tincture organoleptically for the strength of color, scent, and taste. Label this tincture bottle, with the plant used, date started and finished, and use. See also reference #2
*I macerate/soak herbs in alcohol to create tinctures; I also percolate ‑ both maceration and percolation can be called tincturing, and this is also called extracting by some. Any use of external heat for maceration requires care with your equipment.
Macerate, Use a clean metal or porcelain pan; use the type of flowers/plants required for the odor wanted and that are carefully picked (fresh). Place in the hot alcohol or liquid fat or add to the fat or alcohol and allow to remain from twelve to forty-eight hours; fat has a particular affinity or attraction for the oil (scent) of flowers, and thus, as it were, draws it out of them, and becomes itself, by their aid, highly perfumed and alcohol has an affinity for the plant’s therapeutic values.
** Source: https://organicalcohol.com/
Lung abscess treatment by Ryan Drum 2000
1. Watch mucous for any changes by spitting onto white tissue or cloth.
2. Establish good nutrition and restful sleep.
3. Use the following herbs daily:
a. Usnea :1 tablespoon of previously hot (120 degrees F) Usnea-infused oil in salad dressing for salads of fresh wild greens, dandelion, wild carrot, wild mustard, chickweed, and goldenrod tips.
• Herbal uses of Usnea ~ Dyes
Usnea species have been used to create orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple dyes for textiles. Usnea lichen was once used for silk and wool dyes. Some blue and purple hues are still obtained from the species of Usnea.
•Combustible – Usnea barbata is highly flammable and often used as a firestarter when dry.
CULINARY USES OF USNEA ~ Usnea as Food
Usnea is very high in Vitamin C and is a carbohydrate. Before eating, Usnea should be soaked in several changes of water. Usnic acid can be very irritating to the digestive system. In the book, “Tanaina Plantlore,” Priscilla R. Kari states that the Inland Dena’ina Natives of Alaska sometimes eat Usnea as an emergency or camp food after boiling it in water.
DO NOT take for weight loss. Modify what you eat and how to live, and exercise more and better. Don’t rape the planet of its plants because you have bad habits.
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INTERESTING INFORMATION ABOUT LICHENS ~ And litmus and archil* are still obtained from species of lichens. Litmus is used in chemistry to determine if a solution is acid or basic and will turn blue when exposed to basic and red if exposed to an acid. Litmus paper is paper with litmus on it.
*Archil is a violet dye obtained from some lichens.
KEY USE ~ The oil of Perfumery.
SCENT SNAPSHOT of USNEA
And Herbalist Stephen Buhner, the author of Herbal Antibiotics, says that Usnea tinctures best in a combination of water and alcohol (1:5 in 50%) and that a hot extraction method will yield better results (Buhner, 1999).
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California:
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992
SOME CAUTIONS TO REMEMBER for all Plants and their Parts.
Patch Test: If applying a new essential oil to your skin, always perform a patch test on the inner arm (after diluting the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose band-aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas.—The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that matters between you and your healthcare provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©