Herb: Osha Root (Ligusticum porteri; Umbelliferae)
Other Names: Porter’s Lovage, Colorado Cough Root. Chuchupate, “Indian Parsley,” Bear Medicine (24)
Character/Energetics: spicy, bitter, warm (6)
Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: Iungs, stomach (6)
Part used: root (6)
Identification & Harvesting: A typical parsley family plant with finely divided leaves, hollow stems, flat‑topped umbels of seeds and flowers springing from a single juncture like an umbrella, and a strong celery or parsley scent. The root is large, dark brown, and hairy, with a yellow, soapy inner pith and a strong, distinctive celery‑butterscotch scent. The large leaves, sometimes as long as two feet from stalk to tip, are primarily basal, with a few smaller leaves clasping the the flower stalk. Older plants may have dozens of leaves and as many as six flowering stems, forming a large distinctive rosette in wet meadows. The flowers are white, the fruit gradually ripening into fennel‑sized double seeds with a pleasant “celery soup” flavor. The root system in large plants can convolute and regrow in endless configurations with enough bulk from one plant to fill a bushel basket or more.
Now comes the problem: the confusion of identification. Start at 10,000 feet. Books say it grows from 6,500 feet, but I have never observed it below 9,000 and never below 10,000 feet in any quantity or size. If you are way up in the mountains and think you see Osha, look at the seeds-‑those in the center are the most mature. And if the plant is at least two or three feet tall, but the seeds have little thin bracts reflexed downward it is not Osha, but hemlock parsley (Conioselinunm). The root is smaller, somewhat convoluted, dark brown but not hairy, with little scent, whereas Osha stinks! It is not toxic, however. Poison Hemlock is, and it looks very much like Osha but never grows above 7,500 feet. It smells slightly fetid. like a dead mouse, and all of the stems have purplish splotches just above ground Ievel. The root is turnip-colored and hairless. Water hemlock can grow as high as 9,200 feet, but the leaves are much coarser, resembling a combination of celery and marijuana. It always grows in or right next to water and it too has a hairless, turnip-colored root. The leaflets are saw‑toothed and strongly veined, with each side vein ending in the notch of the tooth, not the tip. The plant is virulent dark green. I am not trying to belabor a point, but nearly half the specimens 1 have seen in university herbariums labeled Ligusticum porteri were actually Conioselinum and I have at least once been offered quantities of Osha root for purchase when thc picker had mistakenly dug water hemlock roots, a deadly poison. Even the Spanish New Mexicans make mistakes, for one little valley is blithely labeled “Osha Canyon” on all maps, but is crawling with . . . Conioselinum. (24)
Habitat: Idaho and Nevada (small plants), Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico as far south as Sierra Blanca; Arizona as far south as Mount Graham and reportedly even to the Chiricahua Mountains. A very similiar plant, I. grayi, slightly smaller with similiar brown hairy roots, is found in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevadas of California, from Tulare County northward. The pickable plants start at 9,000 feet, most frequently in Aspen groves, less seldom with conifers. The largest and strongest plants grow in subalpine meadows and old burns and logging cuts, always below timberline. The biggest stands I have seen are in southern Colorado, the Wind River range of Wyoming, and Taos County in New Mexico, but if you are high enoug and the land is still higher above you, you will probably find the plant. (24)
Collecting: Preferably after seeding in Septemher, but before the leaves have died off. The largest plants start to die back first and are easier to spot because of their yellow leaves. Because of the size of the roots, I have found a nurseryman’s shovel and a pry bar the best tools. lf digging in Aspens you will be fighting their shallow roots, so avoid them if you can. Because of their dark bark, the roots can be dried in the sun. It takes a few days, but they will not rot or mildew, no matter how large; the oils render them resistant to bacteria and mold. They can be stored for years. (24)
Cultivation: Almost impossible. Even in northern New Mexico (elevation averaging from 6,000 to 8,000 feet), where it is most widely used, the people are not able to cultivate it for their own consumption. Angelica pinnata, a coarser plant of the same fumily with somewhat similiar functions, is grown as Osha del Campo; the other, Osha de la Sierra, is picked in the mountains and brought down. (24)
Active Constituents: Osha contains several substances some of which are only partially water soluble. A Chinese variety is used for improving blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, promoting menses, and slowing postpartal bleeding. It contains volatile and fixed oils, an alkaloid (C27 H37 N3), a lactone gIycoside, saponins, phytosterols, and ferulic acid.
It contains volatile and fixed oils, a lactone glycoside, an alkaloid (C27H37N3), phytosterols, saponins, and ferulic arid. (24)
Actions: diaphoretic, stimulant, carminative, expectorant, emmenagogue (6); antibacterial, stomach bitter (24); warming stimulant (25)
OSHA (Ligusticum porteri; Umbelliferae)
Conditions & Uses: Osha is used to treat colds, flu, fevers, cough, cold phlegm diseases, indigestion, gas, delayed menses and rheumatic complaints. This is one of the most important herbs of the Rocky Mountains, considered sacred by the Native Americans and widely esteemed by them for its broad and effective warm healing power. Many tribes burned it as incense for purification, to ward off gross pathogenic factors and subtle negative influences. The energy of this North American herb is immediately apparent from its strong odor, which illustrates superiority of fresh North American herbs over many of the oIder and weaker Chinese Ligusticums that are exported for use. (6)
(The medicinal uses of Osha root are) legion. One of the best treatments for viral infections, either tincturred or chewed; brings about thorough sweating and elimination of toxins, especially if used at the first signs of infection. Up to a teaspoon of the tincture or a
piece of the root the size of a walnut every three or four hours…. An almost identical plant, L. wallichii, is used clinically in China for lowering blood pressure, inducing uterine contraction, and slowing postpartal bleeding….
Other uses: The seeds and leaves hold their flavor on drying and make an excellent cooking spice, particularly in meat and vegetable combinations, with a flavor a cross between celery, parsley and chervil. (24)
Applications: For viral infections, up to a teaspoon of the tincture or a piece of the root the size of a walnut every three or four hours. For sore throats and bronchial inflammations the root in any form will soothe and anesthetize almost immediately, with expectoration. Osha makes an excellent cough syrup. One method is to grind up the root and steep twice its volume of honey over a low heat for an hour, then press out when partially cooled. Another methnd is to add one part of the tincture to three parts White Pine Compound Cough Svrtrp (a nonprescrition cough medicine available from most drug stores). The tea is an excellent stomach bitter for indigestion and recuperation, especially when there has been vomiting. The tincture or tea is antibacterial and can be used for abrasions and infections. Contains a number of substances only partially water soluble, so maximum benefit is obtained from chewing, tincturing, or encapsulating. (24)
Dosage: standard infusion or 3‑9 grams; tincture,10‑30 drops. (6)
(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 153
(24) Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, pgs. 119-121
(25) The Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra, pg. 163