My walks around where I live take me to fields, magical pathways and the shore. I spend a lot of time looking around me – seeing what is growing each month in the hedgerows, on the ground and pathways, in gardens and generally in nature herself.
One thing that has particularly fascinated me recently is Lichen - the different types, where it is growing etc. I was keen to learn more about this unusual growth, so I did a bit of research...
As you probably know, Lichen is a not a plant, although with some species, you could be forgiven for thinking so.
Lichens are a life form that consists of two organisms – fungus and algae. The fungus is the dominant organism which gives lichens its unusual shapes and growths. The algae bit is known as cyanobacteria – I had to google that word and according to the dictionary, it is a ‘division of microorganisms that are related to bacteria but are capable of photosynthesis (to covert light energy into chemical energy) which allows it to grow’. Phew! And these represent the earliest known form of life on earth!! Wow!
There are many thousands of different types of lichen – different colours, sizes and forms. Some have small ‘branches’ (fruticose), some look like they have leaves (foliose), others look flaky (crustose) or look powdery (leprose) - you may see the yellowy crustose ones on rock along the shoreline.
Unlike plants, lichen do not have roots, stems, leaves or flowers.
So, what are these strange organisms used for? And do they have magical properties?
Lichens enable the algae to thrive in many climates worldwide which provides a means to convert carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through photosynthesis into oxygen, which we all need to survive – how about that?! They also have the ability to absorb pollutants. This can prove very useful as scientists can extract these toxins to figure out the level of these in our atmosphere.
This is called bio-monitoring and its quite something to discover that these oddly shaped growths can help play a part in assessing the ecological impact of air pollutants.
There are many trees near the shore where I live which are absolutely covered in lichen – from a distance, some of them look like they are part of the tree itself as they are so green.
Lichen on rocks is also a familiar sight on the shore. This is because when lichens get wet, they ‘switch on’ so to speak and start to grow. The water vapour is abundant by the sea, of course, and this is easily absorbed. When the air is dry, they then ‘switch off’ and become dormant.
Trees and rocks aren't the only thing that lichen grows on – you can find it growing on houses, on soil, gravestones and even old cars.
If you spot a lot of lichen around where you live, that is a good thing! It means that the air you breathe is clean and healthy!
I began researching healing properties of lichen – and one type that came up over again was Usnea Lichen also known as Beard Lichen. There are hundreds of species of Usnea Lichen and it has been used by many healers for many years by the Chinese, Greeks and Egyptians.
It is an antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal and used for ailments such as upper respiratory, urinary tract, kidney infections and yeast infections to name a few. It has also been used for tinctures, lozenges, a herbal tea and a mouthwash or gargle.
Magically, it can worked with for clarity – as an incense or spiritual bath. Worn as a charm for protection or placed around your home. It can be used in spell work for abundance or harmony. I think it can be used for sea magic or earth magic too depending on where you obtain it from. There is an abundance of it near where I live, so I shall be asking if I can have some for my own magical workings.
Element: Air (although I think it can be water or earth too)
US Forest Service