Just before the snow came I had been out gathering some more lichens for a dye bath. Lichens can be very slow growing, so I am very careful to only harvest varieties that are abundant. It really takes very little to create a dye bath, so my gathering is minuscule. With the Xanthoria, I collected a mere 1/4 of a cup to start the dye bath. Usnea or Old Man’s beard is another lichen I am trying out along with the Xanthoria parietina. I’ll set up a fermentation jar with the Usnea just like I did with the Xanthoria. It will also sit in a solution of ammonia and water for a couple of months. My hope is that by June I can use some of the liquid that has been fermenting in a natural dyeing class here at the studio. Lichens are such wonderful organisms to study. They are not just one organism but are formed by two, an algae and a fungus living together. There are three main types of lichens, Foliose, which is leaf-like. An example of this would be Lobaria pulmonaria or Lungwort. Crustose, which is flat and crusty. These are the type of lichens that are often found growing on rocks and lay very flat against the rock’s surface. Fructose are lichens which grow upright or may hang down. ( they also tend to be brighter in color). Cladonia cristatella or British Soldier Lichen are an example of a fructose lichen. I’ve taken a picture of the Cladonia that are growing on some rocks near the nursery. To me they are as beautiful as any plant we grow in the nursery. Many lichens have been used for medicinal purposes. Usnea is often tinctured and used as an immune booster. It is very helpful in combating strep or staph infections, or any ongoing chronic conditions that may result in compromising your immune system. I have tinctured Usnea by filling a mason jar with the lichen and covering it with 100 proof vodka. I place this in the pantry (a bit darker in there) and then strain it after about 8 weeks. Of course, labeling is very important, especially when one jar is set-up steeping for wool dyeing and the other made to help combat illness or infection . I really don’t want to confuse the two….a swig of Xanthoria fermenting in ammonia would not be good. Thankfully, the chemical reaction between the lichen and ammonia bath cause the fluid to turn a nice bright shade of pink. I also store them in completely different areas of the house. I’ll continue to keep you posted as the dye baths ferment…..and perhaps I’ll go put some Usnea tincture in my morning cup of tea.
Happy Spring to everyone!