How to Make Usnea Tincture for Respiratory Support
Usnea is a form of lichen that grows on trees. Usnea has a specific affinity for the lungs. It assists in respiratory infections and illness, acting as a herbal antibiotic.
This ‘plant’ is not in fact a single plant but a combination of fungus and algae that grow in a symbiotic relationship. Two common names for Usnea are “Old Man’s Beard” and “The Lungs of The Forest”.
There are several varieties of Usnea. This lichen is common throughout the Northern Hemisphere and particularly enjoys growing on fir, pine, oak, and fruit trees. The species most frequently used in medicinal preparations is Usnea barbata.
Usnea preparations make use of the whole plant and can be used for a variety of health concerns including sore throats, athlete’s foot, acne, pain, fever, and wound healing. However, today’s discussion focuses on its use for respiratory problems and support and how to make an effective tincture.
How to Identify and Harvest Usnea
Usnea should not be confused with Oak Moss or other tree lichens. All eight usnea species are characterized by long, stretchy grey-green strands that hang down from the tree branch or trunk.
Underneath the outer green or grey-green coating is a whiteish central filament. If the central core is not whitish it is probably not usnea. This lichen can produce strands that are inches or even feet long.
If you are going to forage for and harvest usnea rather than buying it from a health shop, it’s important to do so from unpolluted or low pollution areas. This is because this lichen is particularly susceptible to absorbing environmental pollutants including heavy metals.
What makes Usnea so effective for respiratory problems?
Studies have found that this lichen’s main constituent, usnic acid, has antibiotic properties. It has been found to be effective against over a dozen gram-positive bacteria including streptococcus, staphylococcus, pneumococcus, and mycobacteria.
Usnic acid appears to work by disrupting the metabolic function of the bacteria and starving them of energy. While bacterial cells are damaged by usnic acid, human cells aren’t if remedies are correctly made and suggested doses are adhered to. This means that this remedy is not considered unsafe when taken internally.
How to make Usnea Tincture
There’s more than one way to make a tincture using Usnea. This lichen is ideal for this type of preparation because the outer layer is alcohol soluble.
Method 1: Cool method
- Dried or Fresh Usnea
- High proof alcohol, preferably 190. Lower proof alcohol does work, but the mixture takes longer to tincture.
This is a simple method that does not involve heating or cooking:
1. Place the Usnea into a clean jar
2. Pour alcohol over the lichen until it is covered by 1 inch / 2 ½ centimeters of alcohol
3. Place a securely fitting lid on the jar and label the mixture clearly
4. Leave to infuse in a warm, dark place for 6 weeks if you used 95% proof and for 4 – 6 months if you used lower proof including commercial spirits such as Vodka or Gin
5. Strain the mixture to remove the lichen
6. Pour the tincture into a dropper bottle.
This is a traditional way to make tinctures and one that many individuals recommend.
Method 2: Hot / double extraction method
- 1 ounce / 28 grams of dried or fresh Usnea
- 4 ounces / 118 milliliters of distilled or filtered water
- 5 ounces / 74 milliliters of grain or pure, organic cane alcohol
1. Chop the lichen and place it in a stainless-steel pot
2. Add the water and bring it to the boil
3. Turn the heat down, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. You should find that the water volume has reduced to about 2.5 ounces or 74 milliliters.
4. Remove the pot from the heat, take off the cover, and leave the mixture to cool for several minutes.
5. Pour the mixture into a jar
6. Add the alcohol and mix well
7. Cover the jar, label it clearly, place it in a dark, warm place for 2 weeks, and shake the jar daily
8. Strain the liquid
9. Pour liquid into a dropper bottle, place the cap on, and label the bottle.
You can select whichever method you find easiest depending on how quickly you want to be able to use the tincture.
How Much Should I take?
It is recommended that you do not ingest an alcoholic tincture without diluting it as it can irritate the gastric system. The specific dose may vary depending on the user’s age, other health conditions, and what the tincture is being used for. However, general advice:
- 1 teaspoon / 2 – 5 ml up to 3 times a day
- Mix the tincture into warm water
- Drink the mixture 30 minutes before meals
- Don’t ingest the tincture for more than 10 consecutive days.
If you have concerns, consult your health and wellness practitioner. If you experience any ill effects, stop using the tincture immediately, and seek medical advice.
Usnea tincture does not need to be refrigerated and, if stored in a cool place out of direct light, it has an almost indefinite shelf life. The alcohol acts as a preservative.
Warnings and Cautions
As with any preparation, even herbal or plant-based ones, there may be some individuals who are adversely affected or should not use them. Specific warnings with Usnea are that it should not be taken by:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Individuals with liver disease.
It is always advisable to check with your health and wellbeing practitioner before you start using any preparation to ensure that it is safe for you, especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking prescribed or other medications.
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Best Herbs for Lungs and Respiratory Support
Thanks for including this wonderful health provision in your blog. I have used it for a couple years and value it highly. I wanted to add on thing to your article. The reason you don’t use it over ten days is that is is not a dietary supplement but instead it stimulates your own immune system. If you take it regularly, it never allows your own system to grow. I take it when I feel a slight congestion coming on but only a few times and then no need to continue as I usually don’t get sick. I don’t think I’ve had a cold since I began taking it, knock on wood. I usually collect it fresh and make it into the tincture fresh but noticed that almost all old, dried up very stiff usnea that I find on fallen dead branches, even though it is dry grey and stiff will rehydrate quickly into beautiful green, very soft clumps. They grow on dead branches so the fact that they have laid on the ground attached to a dead branch for a couple years doesn’t seem to matter. I just wouldn’t use that since I don’t know what else has visited the branch if it wasn’t fresh fallen. Thanks again for providing a couple ways to tincture it.
Thank you so much for your feedback.
We really appreciate it !
God bless !
I am interested in knowing where I can find Usnea through a reliable resource. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your interest in our work.
You can purchase Usnea using the link below:
I purchased Usnea from the source you linked above. I am making my tincture according to the recipe and directions in your book. I put 230g of Usnea chopped small into a small crockpot. I poured 16 oz. of distilled water over the Usnea and stirred. After about 8 hours the Usnea has completely absorbed the distilled water. Is that normal? I see that I leave it on the lowest temp for 3 days and there should be a couple ounces of water in the crock pot at the end of the 3 days. Does this sound right? Do I need to add more liquid? Thank you in advance for any input you might have.
95 % proof does not make sense. 95% alcohol would be 190 proof. 50% alcohol would be 100 proof.
Just use everclear 190 proof. I use it in ALL my alcohol based tinctures
I am located on the left coast, Los Angeles, CA…Much of what you are showing lately, is not seen here. We live in shake and bake land, mostly dry. What do you have in the way of desert ideas?
Thank you for your comment.
If you are interested in purchasing Usnea and you don’t find it in your area, you can use the link below:
There are some medicinal plants in the desert areas as well like: Prickly Pear Cactus, Pleurisy-root or Butterfly Weed, Wild Licorice.
I read in your book(LBHR-great book by the way) that you use as a spray in your throat. What dilution do you use?
Hey, this has been super useful, thank youuu! 🙂
I just wanted to add as a side-note, Lichen in general, but particularly usnea is extremely slow growing (sometimes what you see hanging on the trees of ancient forests will have taken 80-100 years to grow!), it’s beneficial to the tree, and is also highly endangered (due to their strong sensitivity to pollutants and the disappearing of ancient woodlands), so it’s best to gather from the branches that have already fallen to the forest floor rather than from the tree itself. In time it will die on the branches anyway, while that on the tree could live and grow another century, and it’s much easier to get too, so why not 🙂
Thank you again!
Thank you so much for your feedback.
This information is very useful for us and for all our readers.
We really appreciate it.
I recently purchased Usnea from the source you recommended in a previous comment. It arrived and was great stuff! I am using the directions in your book “The Last Book of Herbal Remedies”. I am doing a double extraction starting with water. Per the instructions I chopped up 230g of Usnea and put it in a small crock pot. I added 16 ounces of distilled water and stirred. After 8 hours every bit of the water is absorbed and I am concerned that after 3 days there will not be any liquid in the mixture. I have my crockpot on the lowest setting. Do I need to add more water or is this normal? Thank you in advance for any words of advice!
I am not sure if I have the correct lichen. Sometimes it looks like Old Man’s Beard but I think I have Witches Hair. It is still stretchy when wet, and when cut in half the strands have a white core. Can I use that instead? Thanks?
I’ve been told that there are no other lichen that have the latex core. BUT, I have never cut it but always, very carefully and slowly, pulled one tiny strand apart – gentle does it. When you do, you will see the white strand and it will break apart when slowly stretched. Since this is a lichen it will appear slightly different over the tree, but each piece is attached to the branch at only one little place. It is called by different names but if you do the stretch/pull test, you will find the true Usnea. It falls to the ground every day in my yard from broken branches in the tops of the oaks and sometimes it is long, sometimes very tiny, sometimes thin, some fat, but Usnea just the same. Good luck!
I am confused. Your book says to allow to macerate 6-8 wks (pg 40) yet this double extraction states 2 wks before straining and bottling.
Help! I followed instructions from Nicole’s book for double extraction. After mixing the 2 liquids (the alcohol and the decoction), something SETTLED OUT of the resulting liquid. Should I strain this out? I have no idea what I did wrong!
The same thing happened to me. I can’t find any info on this besides your comment. I felt like it was a reaction between the two because it happened soon after mixing the two.
I should have this on hand for winter colds.
Do you sell this tincture? I dont have time to make it but it would be great to buy.