A conversation with a young acquaintance a month ago prompted this post (and the fact that Facebook said people are missing me … but I know you can’t trust an algorithm …they’ll tell you anything). We were on a wagon ride and when we went through some woods she said “That’s usnea, it has a lot of health benefits.” She was pointing at moss clinging to some failing trees … a moss that I know as Old Man’s Beard. We had been previously been chatting about beekeeping and I’d told her about Sandra’s and my interest in propolis, a hive product with medicinal uses. So I thought I’d write about these wild, local and more or less free products.
Usnea (OMB) is a lichen, which means it is a combination of fungus and alga …the fungus gets nutrients from the failing tree, the alga does the photosynthesis. The usnic acid in OMB is effective against some bacteria and is used in an infusion for sore throats and to treat skin infections. Herbal sites speak of making cough lozenges, tea, gargles and using it “straight” as a wound dressing. To make a tincture, soak a jar full in vodka for a couple of months and then strain off the infused liquid. Interesting digressions: OMB is high in carbohydrates; deer love it, and when you cut OMB festooned fir trees as I just did, making the tops available, the deer are all over them for the nutrition. It could also be survival food for desperate people. Usnea, we are told, also works as an informal air pollution indicator. Wikipedia says: Usnea is very sensitive to air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide. Under bad conditions they may grow no larger than a few millimetres, if they survive at all. Where the air is unpolluted, they can grow to 10–20 cm long. It can sometimes be used as a bioindicator, because it tends to only grow in those regions where the air is clean, and of high quality. What has Pictou County got to say about that? Now for propolis. It is a hive product made mainly of tree bud resins collected by honeybees. Bees use it as a kind of disinfectant, to stick things together, to mummify dead mice or snakes that they can’t lug out of the hive but mainly as a barrier; for instance, one of the meds I put in my hives is not popular with the bees and they will create a little Trump-like wall to keep the vapours from the med from spreading. I scrape up propolis when I find usable amounts and save and sometimes use it. Warm it is pliable and sticky and looks kind of like toffee; frozen it is brittle, so I have frozen it, ground it to powder in an old coffee grinder and soaked it in overproof rum for a month or so then filtered off the liquid which can be used as an additive to teas, I’m told, though we used it in a neutral cream to make a salve that seems to help clear up rashes and cold sores. I’ve also chewed raw lumps of propolis for relief from a sore in my mouth and from an abscessed tooth. Propolis based toothpaste is available ..takes some looking… but it is supposed to promote oral health. Big pharma is interested in monetizing cures, but here are a couple of freebies. Save your money to buy Phillips honey and wild blueberries …health benefits there, too, I am told.