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Uses of lichens by people

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This is an essay on ethnolichenology. To return to the main page click here.

Lichens have been used for many different purposes by people across the world. Lichens are most commonly used for medicine, dye, or food. As a food stuff lichens have often been directly eaten by humans, but they have also been used indirectly to make alcohol or molasses, or to feed to livestock. Lichens have also commonly been used as a fiber for many different things, anything from baby diapers to clothing to tinder to bedding.

Some of the more novel and interesting uses of lichens are listed below:

A novel species of Dictyonema was used by the Waorani as a hallucinogen. They called the lichen Ne/ne/ndape/ and used it in shamanistic rituals (Davis and Yost 1983).

An unidentified saxicolous lichen was called Jievut hiawsik [lit. "Earth flower"] by the Pima of California. It was used as a good luck charm, and it was smoked for its narcotic effect (Curtin 1949).

In Mauritania, Parmelia paraguariensi is mixed with tobacco and smoked. It is also burned as an insect repellent and used as perfume (Lange 1957).

An unidentified pyrenocarpous lichen was used by the Denís of Amazonian Brazil as an recreational snuff (Prance 1972).

Parmotrema chinense, Parmotrema perforatum, and Everniastrum cirrhatum are all called Chharila in India and are used medicinally. They have also been used as an a snuff and as an aphrodisiac (Chandra and Singh 1971).

Peltigera canina was used by the Southern Kwakiult as a love charm (Boas 1921, cited in Turner and Bell 1973).

The Apache used Letharia vulpina to paint crosses on their feet so they could pass their enemies unseen (Sharnoff 1997)

A species of Peltigera or Lobaria was called "Frog blanket" by the Gitksan of British Columbia, and because it was associated with frogs it was used in a spring bathing ritual to bring health and long life (Gottesfeld 1995 ).

Letharia vulpina and Vulpicida pinastri have both been used to poison wolves in northern Europe (Sharnoff 1997; Uphof 1959) and Letharia vulpina may have also been used to make poison arrowheads by the Achomawi of California (Merriam 1967).

Xanthoria parietina and Parmelia saxatilis are used in the ritual of well-dressing in England to make miniature scenes to decorate wells (Vickery 1975).

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

Cladina stellaris has been harvested in large quantities in Scandinavia to use to make wreaths, floral decorations, and architect's models (Kauppi 1979).

Usnea longissima was probably the original tinsel on Christmas trees in Northern Europe (Brodo et al. 2001).

Lichens, especially Pseudevernia furfuracea, Evernia prunastri, and Lobaria pulmonaria, have been used in Europe to make perfumes and other cosmetics. They have also been used in tanning and in the manufacture of some chemicals.

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