Osha (Bear Root)
Biological Name: Ligusticum porteri
Other Names: Chuchupate/Chuchupaste/Chuchupatle/Chuchupati (Spanish – mix and match spelling ranging from Nahuatl to Tejano), Colorado Cough Root, Mountain Ginseng, Nipo, Indian Root, Empress of the Dark Forest, Bear Medicine, Wild Lovage, Porters Lovage, Mountain Carrot
Parts Used: Root
The common Mexican name for the plant, chuchupate, is said to be an ancient Aztec term meaning “bear medicine.” Bears respond to the herb like cats do to catnip. They will roll on it and cover themselves with its scent.
Males have been seen to dig up the roots and offer them to females as part of courting. When a bear first comes out of hibernation, it will eat osha if it can find it, to cleanse its digestive system. The bear will chew the root into a watery paste, then spit it on its paws and wash its face with the herb. It will then spray the herb over its body as the herb possesses strong action against bodily parasites. It is not known how the bears came to acquire this herbal knowledge, but their use is legendary in all culture who refer to it as such – bear medicine. This is the reason that the bear is considered to be the prime healing animal in many cultures because it uses plants for its own healing. Any plant that is considered to be “bear medicine” is a potent and primary one.
Early pioneers in Colorado called it “Colorado cough root” because of its effectiveness for that condition. The genus name, Ligusticum, is named after the Italian city of Liguria.
Osha was originally used by Native Americans to treat colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections. Since osha displays a strong affinity for the respiratory system, Native American runners would chew the root to increase endurance. It was also worn in medicine pouches and around the ankles to ward off rattlesnakes. Flathead Indians would wash the roots in a mountain stream near where the root was growing to help bring rain or water.
• Stimulates the immune system
Osha is considered to be a “warming” herb, strongly for the respiratory system and mildly for other body systems, including the upper gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, central nervous system, lymphatic, reproductive, integumentary, and parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. It is used for such conditions as head colds with dry, irritating coughs, the initial stages of acute pharyngitis, as well as subacute pharyngitis that has been slow to heal, early stage tonsillitis, acute influenza with coughing and dyspnea (difficulty breathing), and acute bronchial pneumonia with dyspnea.
When used with Echinacea, it is effective against leukocytosis (an increase in white blood cells), which is usually indicative of an impending infection. Because of its strong antiviral properties, it should be taken at the first minimal signs of flu or cold, which often include a dulling of the mind because of sinus congestion. It is extremely good for sore throats and bronchial inflammations, and will soothe and anesthetize almost immediately, and with its diaphoretic properties causes sweating, thereby helping to eliminate toxins.
It is especially good in cough syrups. A simple syrup is to mix the ground root with twice the amount of honey, steep for an hour, then press out when cool and use the liquid.
Because the root strongly affects the respiratory system, making it stronger, it seems to help those travelling to or living at higher altitudes.
The tea, powdered root, or tincture is also antibacterial and excellent on skin wounds to prevent infection.
Osha is excellent for stomach indigestion and for cramping or pain associated with the beginnings of ulceration.
Although it is the root that is used medicinally, the leaves and seeds make excellent culinary additions.
Osha roots can be used several times before the medicinal property is exhausted.
Related to lovage and a member of the parsley family, osha is a perennial, growing above 7000 feet throughout the entire Rocky Mountain range from Mexico to Canada.
The plant stands about two or three feet in height and possesses the characteristic umbel (umbrella) flower shape and leaves that look a little like parsley. It can be stubborn and strong, often growing in aspen groves among their roots, making digging very difficult. Osha does not like to be domesticated, and is virtually impossible to grow under cultivation.
Because the plants do not reproduce freely, most, if not all, or the commercially available osha is taken from the wild; and, because the root is the part of the plant taken, widespread harvesting will diminish availability unless the harvesting is done very carefully. In other words, TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED!!!
It is one of the few herbs that can be dried in the sun without harm and will last for years in the dried form. It will not rot because of the potent antibacterial and antiviral substances in the root.
Cold infusion or short decoction: 3-8g
Tincture: 0.5-3ml at the above mentioned strength
The plant can be confused with poisonous hemlock. The primary way to tell the difference is by the root. Osha root is quite hairy and possesses a strong smell similar to celery. The inner pith is yellow and has a soapy feel. It is important to know the plant because you have only one chance to get it right.
Do not use during pregnancy or if breastfeeding.