If you have ever come across pale grayish-green fungus growing in a coral-like shrubby structure on barks or twigs of trees, you were most probably looking at usnea lichen. Lichen is an organism when a fungus and an alga fused and grow together for mutual benefit.
Usnea lichen is also known as “beard lichen” or “old man’s beard” because of its bushy, hairy appearance. Usnea may be reddish, whitish or black and grow in colourful, flat patches.
Usnea has proven medicinal uses. Since time immemorial all over the world, it has been added to herbal formulas for its healing power and ability to fight germs off. Even today usnic acid, an active ingredient of usnea is widely used in deodorants, toothpaste, soaps, lotions, mouthwashes for its purported benefits.
The potential health benefits of usnea include:
- Usnea is claimed to possess antibacterial properties. It is very effective against gram-positive bacteria found in digestive tracts (such as Streptococcus). Also, it is found that usnea does not kill some bacteria useful to the digestive system.
- Another medical advantage of usnea is that it helps to get rid of a wide range of viruses. It kills lung and bronchial area viruses. Also, a study reveals using usnic acid and a specific product of zinc sulphate helps patients with HPV heal after their surgical sore removals and reduces the chances of recurrence.
- Usnea is found to be beneficial in treating a number of fungal infections, including Candida species. Depending on favorability and availability, this herb can be used topically and internally.
- Being a potent antimicrobial herb, usnea has a great healing effect on wounds. It treats and prevents infection. Also, because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it alleviates the wound and accelerates the healing process.
- Usnea also has a traditional reputation for fighting cold. It is used for treating sore throats.
- It is used in deodorants and talcum powders, because of its effectiveness against germs causing body odor.
Usnea, however, could possess the risk of toxicity when being used in high concentrations.
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(Image from – https://mlbs.virginia.edu/organism/usnea)