The fact that you’re reading this blog means there’s a good chance you’re at least somewhat familiar with the usnea group of lichens. They are commonly known in English as “old man’s beard”, as they somewhat resemble scraggly gray beard hairs. Usnea lichens are characterized by an elastic white string that runs through the main stem. They are found throughout the world. If you are familiar with these lichens, you probably know that they can be used for fire lighting, but there’s much more to them than their use as tinder.
Most usnea lichen species contain usnic acid, which is a strong antibiotic and antifungal acid. It’s literally medicine that grows on trees!* For centuries (at least), it has been used both internally (eaten as-is, drunk as tea or ingested as a tincture) and externally (applied like gauze to wounds) to prevent and fight bacterial infections. I have personally not used usnea in this way and will research further as to how much is a good amount to ingest, but I feel good already knowing it’s there!
The fact that they can be eaten means, of course, that they are edible. In addition to being high in carbohydrates, usnea lichens are also rich in vitamin C. Apparently, it is not a good idea to eat a lot of this lichen at one time, as large amounts of usnic acid can seriously irritate the stomach, but small amounts are said to be healthy and nourishing.
Mother nature never ceases to amaze me!
*Note: This information is NOT being provided as medical advice. It is for educational purposes only. As always, be sure to research wild foods and medicines on your own and be 100% sure of what you are eating/using. I will not be held liable if you eat something poisonous and then croak! Be aware that brightly-colored lichens are more likely to be poisonous, and some even resemble usnea (e.g. wolf lichen).