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Alectoria sarmentosa

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[“Witch’s hair”]

FOLK NAMES: Suts’wakt [name also applied to Usnea spp.] or Ipts-aak [lit. “limb moss”, name also applied to mosses growing on the tree branch] (Bella Coola); P’u7up [name also applied to any lichen or moss] (Nitinaht)

USES: Decoration (Bella Coola, Secwepemc, Nuxalk), Medicine (Bella Coola), Clothing (Interior Salish), Fiber (Nitinaht, Sechelt, Haida)

Alectoria sarmentosa, Usnea spp., and Bryoria spp. were used by the Stl’atl’imx and other Interior Salish peoples for weaving clothing such as ponchos and footwear (Turner 1998). The lichen was usually interwoven with stronger materials such as silverberry bark. Clothing made from such lichen was considered to be of low quality, and was usually worn by those who couldn’t obtain skins to use instead.

The Secwepemc (Turner 1998), Nuxalk (Turner 1998), and Bella Coola (Turner 1973) use Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea spp. as false whiskers and artificial hair for decorating dance masks, and especially for children masquerading.

The Sechelt used Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea spp. to put on a fire when they wanted smoke (Turner 1998). The Haida used them for bedding when they were camping (Turner 1998).

Among the Nitinaht, Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea spp. are valued for their absorbent qualities. They are used for wiping salmon, and as sanitary napkins and baby diapers (Turner et al. 1983). The Sechelt also used these same lichens as baby diapers (Turner 1998).

The Nitinaht used Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea spp. for dressing wounds (Turner et al. 1983). These same lichens, if found growing on alder, were used by the Bella Coola to poultice sores and boils (Smith 1928, cited in Turner 1973). These lichens were also used by the Haida to strain hot pitch to remove impurities before it was used as medicine (Turner 1998).

The related species Alectoria vancouverensis occurs in coastal areas of B. C. and was probably not differentiated from Alectoria sarmentosa by the First People’s of these areas. Alectoria sarmentosa contains usnic acid (Brodo and Hawksworth 1977), which is known to be one of the stronger lichen antibiotics (Lauterwein et al. 1995). It may also contain alectoronic acid, a-collatolic acid, atranorin, barbatic acid, squamatic acid, and thamnolic acid (Brodo and Hawksworth 1977).

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