Usnea (Lichen) Old Man’s Beard

Usnea is sometimes called ‘old man’s beard’, tree moss, or beard moss, and lives in trees throughout the world.

Old Man’s Beard grows in hardwood forests and is considered by many an indicator of clean air. During the winter months after high wind events lichen detaches from the bark and softly rides the wind where it lands on the ground making it easy to harvest. Sometimes, branches with patches of Usnea will break during strong winds.

When I go into the woods to explore it feels like a treasure hunt. What will I find – who will I meet today?

Like so many plants, Usnea has powerful medicinal qualities. It is known to have antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral properties. Many people consume usnea during a respiratory illness. Also known to be an anti-inflammatory, this herbal ally is helpful in reducing minor aches and pains.

Usnea can be made into a tincture, oil infusion, salve, infusion, or decoction. It can be powered and used as a wound treatment.

My friend, Judy, lives on 50 acres not far from me and she shared the treasure of fallen Tree Moss with me. When friends share plants with me, I’m always filled with joy. It feels extra special. While I’ve seen Usnea many times, I hadn’t collected any, so this was a treat. I promptly made an herbal oil infusion and a dual extraction tincture with this wonderful lichen.

Oil Infusions

It’s important your herbal matter has been left to wilt for a few days or up to a couple weeks depending upon the plant. Oil and water don’t mix. If you use fresh plant matter in oil, you will quite likely create an atmosphere for microbial growth. We don’t want that!

Let your herb dry out a bit before infusing it in oil. With Usnea, it’s a very lightweight lichen and dries rather quickly. A plant like mullein with thick leaves needs more time to wilt. I prefer to dry all plants thoroughly, but if you’re in a hurry, wilting will give you a shelf stable product. Making beautiful safe products to use and share is easy when you understand the basics.

When you’re ready to begin your oil infusion, find the right size glass jar for the amount of herbs you’re going to use. Be sure to thoroughly clean your glass jar by boiling, heating in the oven, or washing in hot soapy water to sanitize it. I prefer to boil jars and then place in the oven to dry.

It must be 100% dry before pouring your oil into the jar. Remember, oil and water don’t mix.

When your jar is thoroughly dry, add your wilted or dry plant matter and cover with the oil of your choice. Fill the jar half to two-thirds full with the herb. The choice of oil really depends on what you desire. This is your project, and you get to decide. I have found my favorites over the years. These include meadowfoam seed, avocado, and Jojoba oils. Meadowfoam has a very light scent, so it will take on the fragrance of most herbs. I work with this oil the most.

Many people use olive oil for topical use, but this has never been a preference for me. I will use olive oil when making a culinary infused oil, however.

I’ll link to my other blog post which outlines some of the benefits for various oils. This might help you decide. I prefer to use oils that have a longer shelf life, but when I want to use a really wonderful oil with a shorter shelf life like pomegranate oil, I’ll enhance the two to enhance stability.

Cover your herbs with the oil of choice and fill to the very top of the jar leaving two – three centimeters of room at the top. The herbs will expand, so leave room for that expansion. The point is, you want your herbs to be completely covered and saturated with the oil. If any of the plant material is exposed to air, it can grow mold, which we want to prevent.

Be sure to check your jar on the first day two or three times, add more oil if needed. After that, gently shake your jar every day, this will ensure that your herbs are fully saturated with oil and prevent the possibility of mold growth. It’s easy to get busy and forget about your oil infusion. I like to place mine on the counter out of direct sunlight, so I don’t forget about it. And it makes me happy to see it daily knowing that there’s a little chemical magic taking place right there in my kitchen.

You may have a spot that is perfect for your oil infusion. It can be anywhere in a cool dark place out of direct sunlight where you won’t forget it. Perhaps, you have a cabinet perfect for these types of herbal projects.

Cover with an airtight lid, and then label your jar with its contents and date you began the infusion. Old Man’s Beard is unique in its appearance, so it’s unlikely you will forget what’s inside. But it’s a good practice to label end date all your jars.

In addition to labeling jars, I keep notebooks with all the details of each product I make. It’s so helpful in allowing me to keep track of what I’m doing, what’s working and what’s not. When I find something is working well, I want to keep repeating it.

Usnea infuses (macerates) in the oil for at least one moon cycle and up to 12 weeks. After that I decant it into a sanitized glass measuring cup using a stainless-steel strainer and cheesecloth. Once strained, I will often make a salve by adding beeswax. The oil on its own is just as beneficial as a salve, but salves are wonderful because they are solid, and they can be carried more easily in your purse or backpack.

This is how easy it is to make an oil infusion.

Why Make an Oil Infusion with Usnea?

Usnea has wonderful antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties giving it an esteemed place in my herbal medicine cabinet.

Judy shared enough Usnea with me to make the oil infusion, tincture, and I even have some left that is dried and available for use in a variety of ways.

Usnea infusing in oil and alcohol

Powdered Usnea (Old Man’s Beard, Tree Moss)

With your dried Tree Moss, simply powder it as needed for cuts, scratches, and other minor wounds.

Tincturing Usnea (Old Man’s Beard, Tree Moss) A Dual Extraction Method

I made a dual extraction tincture using alcohol and water. The water extraction in this case is known as a decoction. These are made separately and then combined in the end. I make a 75% alcohol extraction to 25% decoction. These two methods extract different properties from the lichen. By using both methods we create a well-rounded herbal remedy. This tincture can be added to warm water to use a wash topically for wounds as needed. It can be consumed like any tincture: a few drops in a glass of water.

Usnea Decoction (Old Man’s Beard, Tree Moss)

Making a decoction draws out more of the medicinal properties than simply making a tea. With roots, bark and in the case of Usnea, a decoction is a better choice than simply making an herbal water infusion (tea). Place the usnea in a small pan filled with filtered water, cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. And then drink it like you would any other warm beverage. Add lemon, cinnamon, honey, or whatever suits your fancy.

Note: The decoction I made for the tincture simmered longer than 30 minutes. On the stovetop, I reduced it by half before adding it to the alcohol portion.

Usnea Salve (Old Man’s Beard, Tree Moss)

C.R.Y. Herbals Product

I love the way this custom batch of Usnea wound repair salve came out. I didn’t add any essential oil, so the fragrance is very mild. It has that light beeswax aroma, since Usnea doesn’t have much of a scent. This gorgeous herbal ally can be used for many skin conditions like:

  • pain relief
  • itchiness
  • cuts & scratches
  • sores
  • mild burns
  • other skin irritation
  • Soothing and protecting

Have you ever seen Usnea? I’m always pleasantly surprised to learn about the practical uses of the plants that show up in my life. What plants are showing up in yours?

If you’d like to purchase Usnea Salve, click here.


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