Medicine in Our Midst: Lungwort

It is wet.


I’m grateful for the rain whenever it comes these days; my childhood was full of staring outside hoping the rain would stop, never realizing that it actually might someday. That it actually could do that, or what it would mean if it does. Thankfully the rain still comes, though not as often.


On this day, I am off for a rainy run and I trample thru the woods before I get out on the road. This is always my favorite part of my run. In the dark of the woods before I emerge into the clear cut light.


Everything is so damp back here; I cannot hear my feet as they hit the ground. Sponge like, there is enough moisture being accumulated in these woods to allow the flora to survive off the water into next winter. The evergreen is so aptly named, and green, such a color. The color of life.



Lungwort Lichen

As I near the road I am struck by this lime green creature up ahead, looking a bit like a toad but far too big to be one. I get closer and stop, I have come across a beautiful piece of Lobaria pulmonaria.


Common name: Lungwort.


A lichen that thrives in damp, shady forests, soothes dry, wheezing, and persistent coughs. Looking like a thick, rubbery piece of lettuce it is bright green when wet. The underside is pale. There is another plant called Lungwort, scientific name Pulmonaria officianalis, that is not a lichen, the plant Lungwort looks similar to comfrey, but since I didn't stumble across the plant in the woods, I'm not talking about it today. I am talking about the lichen.


Early American botanical doctors used lungwort for cough, and often specifically for whooping cough and croup. It was decocted into milk for this treatment. I often recommend that people avoid dairy when suffering from cough or have respiratory mucus. You can see this was used for dry, wheezing, and rasping coughs, not wet coughs. Also, milk, when heated with herbs as a milk decoction, typically has a different impact on our respiratory tract than milk that is served cold. Think about it, when do mammals consume cold milk? That’s just an industrialized people thing. Of course, early doctors were using milk that was fresh from a pastured cow, so that will aid in digestion, and soothe the irritated respiratory tract on the way down.


One of the fun parts about bumping into this beauty was that lungwort, like many lichens, are an indicator of the health of its environment. They are very sensitive to atmospheric contamination. So finding it in the woods near my house is an indicator of so much more. It is an indicator of the air I am breathing, the soil I am growing food in

Lobaria Pulmonaria

nearby, and the health of the trees I have come to love so much.


This lichen is slow growing, so if you choose to harvest any on your own please follow these guidelines: only harvest that which has fallen to the ground, and harvest during the time between early spring and early summer – when it is growing.


Though it was tempting to pick her up and keep her for next time one of my son’s has a barking cough. I let that little baby stay right where I found her. She is fine there, she was collecting water and sun, and she has taken a long time to get that big, I didn’t need her for any medicine in that moment. Stewardship means reminding myself, the woods is her home, I’m just a guest, and so as any good guest would I left her home as I found it.



XO, Christina


Sources:

Kloos, Scott. Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants (c)2017

Lust, John. The Herb Book (c) 2009

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CHRISTINA KUSKE

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