Rainy Winter Storms & Wild-Harvesting Opportunity

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Here in the foothills we are at the start of a rainy winter storm that is expected to last about a week. I usually don’t think about wild-harvesting medicine during the winter rains, but this time of year there is one exception – unsea!



Usnea is a lichen (a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and algae), that grows on tree branches. It does not tolerate air pollution very well, so you’re more likely to find it in healthy forests, often growing on oak, bay trees or conifers. A key feature of usnea is a thin, elastic-like thread that can be seen when you break away a section of the yellow/green outer sheath. This thread (the fungus part) is an immune stimulator, and the outer sheath (the algae part) is an anti-microbial. Usnea can be used topically for wounds, or taken as a tincture or tea for prevention or treatment of bacterial infections. It is known to have a special affinity for healing infections of the respiratory tract.*

Due to air pollution and deforestation in California, some species of usnea are now endangered, so I don’t recommend pulling it off the trees where ever you see it growing. Instead, I like to wait for the winter storms, when the wind blows down the dead and weak branches to the forest floor. The usnea will not surivive for long on those downed branches, and can be more ethically collected at that time for medicine making.

Dried Usnea

Dried Usnea

I collected some usnea after the last storm we had (just before Thanksgiving), dried it, and then blended it up before making a tincture. When it’s finished, I’ll have approximately 10 ounces of tincture. One ounce of commercial usnea tincture at the store costs about $10! So for less than that amount, I made 10 ounces of medicine from my own bio-region and had the joy and sense of self-sufficiency of doing of it myself. Plus I had a good reason to go play in the woods!

Want to learn how to make own tinctures this season? Join me on Tuesday, December 4th, 6-7:30pm, for a tincture making class at HAALo. Save money, connect more deeply to your medicine, and empower yourself in this very useful and effective medicine making techinque! We’ll be making tinctures for everyone to take home, so please pre-register to reserve your space and materials. More details here.

This will be my last class of the year. My family and I are headed off to Baja California after the holidays for some winter rest, rejuvination, and play in the hills and coastal beaches. If you have any favorite places or plants in Baja please let me know!

In 2013, my husband Matt and I will be offering our Wild Food & Medicinal Herb CSA again in the spring and fall seasons! We’re so excited to do this again and we’ll share more details in March. You can get an idea of what it will be like at Adventures With Matt. I also plan to offer more medicine making classes at HAALo next year, as well as DIY herbal skin care. If you want to treat yourself to a luxurious weekend of herbal play, hotsprings, and self-nourishment, please join me at Esalen on May 10-12 in Big Sur.

Stay warm and be well,

Rachel Berry
Sierra Botanica

*For more about using Usnea as medicine, I recommend Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition by Stephen Harrod Buhner