Scientific name: Usnea
Old Man’s Beard is a herbal medicine although technically not a plant. It is a lichen which is an organism that consists of a symbiotic relationship between Fungus and Algae. It grows worldwide on the bark of trees in long beard like strands, giving it its nickname Old Man’s Beard.
It has long been used in traditional medicine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is believed to have used it to treat urinary ailments and South African folk medicine used it to treat wounds and inflammation of the mouth and throat. Old Man’s Beard has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine carrying strong energetics of clearing heat, moving dampness, and releasing toxicity from the body. It has an affinity for the kidneys, bladder, reproductive organs, mucous membranes, upper respiratory, tissues, and skin.
I’ve done some research on this remarkable plant, looking at the ethnobotany uses as well as scientific studies on it. I would love to share my findings with you.
Here is what Old Man’s Beard can help you with:
A Respiratory supporter
Old Man’s Beard has a special affinity for rebalancing microbes including bacteria, viruses and fungi, as well as eradicating infections throughout the mucus membranes. This makes usnea a go-to plant for infections in the lungs and bronchial area which is often indicated by green or yellow phlegm, chest pain, difficulty breathing or a fever. It can effectively help to relieve pneumonia, sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, colds, flu and other respiratory complaints.
A Urinary Restorer
Old Man’s Beard is highly beneficial for urinary tract and kidney infections. It promotes excretion within both the urinary tract and kidneys which supports a healthy immune response in the mucous membranes, promotes a healthy function of the urinary system and helps to maintain a healthy microbial balance within the Urinary System.
An Immune Modulator
Old Man’s Beard is an immune system tonic that can be used in acute situations and for long term immune enhancement and general prevention. Its immune-strengthening properties are also connected to its powerful antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties. Old Man’s Beard can be helpful for people with chronic fatigue, herpes, HIV, and other depressed immunity conditions.
A Bacteria Detector
Old Man’s Beard has been used for a long time around the world to address infections including infections of the throat, lung, wounds, urinary tract and vagina. It affects a wide range of pathogens and does not work like a pharmaceutical antibiotic that indiscriminately kills all bacteria and take a negative toll on beneficial bacteria in the gut. Old Man’s Beard is believed to not negatively affect healthy gut bacteria.
Bacteria can be classified into two groups: gram-positive and gram-negative. Both of these can be pathogenic. Many studies have shown that usnea is effective against many types of gram-positive bacteria, including strep (Streptococcus spp.), staph (Staphylococcus simulans, S. epidermidis, and S. aureus), tuberculosis, Bacillus licheniformis, B. megaterium, B. subtilis, and Enterococcus faecalis by destroying the organisms metabolism.
Gram-negative bacteria have a firmer cell wall and are more prone to antibiotic resistance, therefore, making it harder to control. A study in India has shown that their local species was effective in vitro against certain types of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. More research is needed.
A Fungal Destroyer
Old Man’s Beard is commonly used as an antifungal herb. It is used both internally and externally for a variety of fungal infections of the skin, genitals and sinuses. Studies have also shown it to be effective against the common skin fungus Trichophyton rubrum, responsible for causing athlete’s foot, “jock itch,” and ringworm in humans. Old Man’s Beard has also been shown to be effective against Candida albicans, an opportunistic yeast that can cause mouth, gut, and vaginal fungal imbalances in humans.
A Detoxing Supporter
Old Man’s Beard can absorb and release heavy metals and toxins in the body and has shown potential benefits against cancer.
Also, just so that you know, I make and sell an Old Man’s Beard Tincture. If you would like to try it?
A Viral Blocker
Old Man’s Beard is said to help the body rid viral infections held in the mucus membranes. Studies have shown it to be effective against the family of Herpes viruses including Herpes Simplex and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV or human herpesvirus-4/HHV-4) as well as pneumonia.
A Wound Healer
Old Man’s Beard is a well-known antiseptic wound healer that helps to prevent infection as well as stop bleeding. Test-tube studies suggest that usnea may fight infection-causing bacteria, reduce inflammation, and stimulate wound closure by increasing collagen formation. Its anti-inflammatory properties may also be responsible. There’s also evidence that usnic acid may protect against skin infections including those caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
An Anticancer Supporter
As other fungi do, usnea has the ability to absorb and release heavy metals and toxins in the body and has shown potential benefits against cancer.
Old Man’s Beard was one of four lichens to be tested against breast and lung cancer cell lines. It showed strong anti-growth activity by promoting programmed cell death (apoptosis). Another study showed that usnea extracts invoked apoptosis-like cell death by causing DNA damage in lung and liver cancer cells.
Old Man’s Beard is also rich in antioxidants (polyphenols) that help to fight cell damage caused by unstable compounds known as free radicals. Antioxidant activity helps to protect the body against diseases such as cancer.
Although these results are promising, more studies are needed.
The Botanical Safety Handbook gives Old Man’s Beard its highest safety rating. Safety during pregnancy has not been established and many herbalists recommend against using it during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
You may see warnings about Old Man’s Beard toxicity, especially in relation to the liver. The basis of these claims comes from studies (or case studies) using isolated usnic acid, not from using the whole plant.
Old Man’s Beard is not to be taken long term.
Properties and Actions
Anodyne / Analgesics, Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, Antiviral, Astringent, Demulcent, Expectorant, Febrifuge (reduce fever), Immunomodulator, Vulnerary (heals wounds)
Respiratory System, Urinary System, Immune System, Reproductive System
I also use Old Man’s Beard in my
- Foraging for Usnea: A Super Medicinal Lichen (8/7/21)
- Healthline: What Is Usnea? All About This Herbal Supplement (8/7/21) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/usnea
- Usnea Spp. “The Plant Healer’s Path” by Jesse Wolf and Kiva Rose Bell-Hardin. (8/7/21)
- Gaia Herbs: Usnea (8/7/21)
- Froton Wellnes: Herb of The Month. (8/7/21)
- Herbs With Rosalee. The Usnea Herb (8/7/21)
- Corrina Wood: Usnea, an immune-enhancing lichen (9/7/21)