Winter in the Wester Hailes Community Herbal Medicine Clinic brings with it a lot of seasonal bugs and viruses, and this year is no exception. Our preference is always to use herbs which are seasonally and locally available, and so winter, with a distinct lack of plant life, can pose something of a challenge!

Luckily, while herbaceous perennials and annuals die back over winter, we can look to other kingdoms for some herbal support at this time of year. Two of our favourite herbs are both in the miraculous and ever-health giving kingdom of Fungi – the Old Man’s Beard Lichen & the Birch Polypore Mushroom. This past month we’ve been busy collecting these for medicine making & use in the clinic.

old mans beardOld Man’s Beard (Usnea spp.) is a lichen commonly found  year round on old growth trees within unpolluted areas. A lichen is a pretty marvellous symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungi – the algae can photosynthesize and so it produces food for the pair, and the fungi stops the algae from drying out. These incredible organisms are some of the world’s oldest living things, and even helped to create soil way back when so that the first plants could grow.

Old Man’s Beard is a powerful broad spectrum antibiotic – active against many strains of bacteria responsible for strep throat, staph infections, tuberculosis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, impetigo and other skin infections. Unlike other antibiotics, Old Man’s Beard isn’t active against the bacterial strains that colonise our gut, so it is less disruptive towards our gut flora. The healthy bacteria that live in our gut and increasingly being found to have a wide range of health-giving benefits so this is an important lichen indeed.

mushroomBirch Polypore Mushroom (Piptoporus betulinus) is a bracket fungi, commonly found growing on Birch trees. This is the famed mushroom found on the person of Otzi, the 5,300 year old man who was preserved in ice in the Alps for centuries. He carried the Birch Polypore with him for its medicinal properties, as well as to use as tinder for firelighting.

We use Birch Polypore in our clinic as an immune stimulant for supporting patients through times of low resilience