Osha root (Ligusticum poteri) offers a distinctive deep healing power that is connected to the unique conditions of its high altitude home in the Rocky Mountains. Osha is found in sub alpine zones (7,000 to 10,000 feet) from British Colombia south to New Mexico. Called Bear Medicine, Colorado Cough Root, and Mountain Ginseng, this is a root with many uses and a long lineage of reverence among local healers throughout its growing region.
Just the smell of osha is indicative of its incredible potency. The aromas of osha roots cooking on your wintertime stove will invariably cause a house guest to stop and wonder what that wild yet familiar smell could possibly be. The familiar quality is likely due to the fact that it is a member of the parsley family, as is celery. Herbalist Michael Moore refers to osha’s characteristically strong aroma and taste as “celery from hell.” I agree with the hell part in that it carries an underworld quality. And it does in fact grow in the darkest depths of moist, rich, organic soils! The wild part is also true. The majority of osha root found in commerce is from wild harvest. This is because medicinally viable osha plants are not easily cultivated; they grow best in their high rocky mountain conditions which are hard to mimic on a farm.
Brown Bears love Osha Roots!
Humans are not the only fans of osha medicine. Bears are known to dig up osha roots especially in springtime upon waking from their hibernation slumber. Northern Native Americans and the Aztecs both gave the name “bear medicine” to Ligusticum porteri because bears were seen digging it up and consuming it, most likely for its carminative potential to kickstart digestion. Bears also drip and spray the juices of chewed osha all over their fur coats and faces!
Modern day herbalists and folk medicine lovers today use osha to soothe coughs and head colds, to support healthy respiratory function, to encourage healthy altitude adjustment, to promote perspiration when cooling down a fever, for minimizing tooth pain, supporting health of the sinuses, as a lucky talisman, an air purifier, and as a digestive tonic. The list of ways to use osha is very long. And luckily, since the roots are so chock full of healing potency, you can boil them in water an average of 50 times! This is an economic and ecological gain to avoid harvesting or buying 50 more roots than necessary.
Herbalist and Teacher Ann Drucker has a ton of uses for osha. One she has been excited to share lately is grinding osha up after you have boiled it 50 times and using it in your cooking. A coffee/spice grinder does the trick to pulverize the osha properly. This provides a unique spice for salmon, sauteed onions, honey, even brownies! Ann strongly encourages the full use of the plant. She says, “When you are done, if you do not grind it up and eat it, take it back to its home in the Earth where you found it.”
Writer Christina Bertelli, CCH, is a Certified Clinical Herbalist & Feminine Ecology Educator