Lichens Used in Traditional Medicine

  • Stuart D. Crawford


Lichens are used in traditional medicine by cultures across the world, particularly in temperate and arctic regions. Knowledge of these medicinal uses is available to us because of the contributions of traditional knowledge holders in these cultures.

The traditional medicinal uses of 60 lichen genera are summarized in this paper. Cultures in different regions of the world tend to emphasize different lichen genera in their traditional medicines, with Usnea being the most widely used genus. The folk taxonomy of lichens within a given culture is not synonymous with the scientific taxonomy and reflects the cultural value of those lichens and the traditional method of their identification. Even within Western science the identity and taxonomy of lichens has not remained constant throughout history.

Lichens in traditional medicine are most commonly used for treating wounds, skin disorders, respiratory and digestive issues, and obstetric and gynecological concerns. They have been used for both their secondary metabolites and their storage carbohydrates. The European uses of lichens have been exported world wide and sometimes influence the use of lichens by other cultures. These European uses started in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and arose from interpretations of Ancient Greek uses, as well as the application of the Doctrine of Signatures.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart D. Crawford
    • 1
  1. 1.Crawford Ecological ConsultingMassetCanada

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