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Osha Monograph

House of Origins

Latin name: Ligusticum porteri


Common name(s): Osha root, porter’s licorice, bear root


Plant type: Apiaceae (Parsley family)


Habitat: Osha is particular in that it is only found at high altitudes, usually above 6000 feet but sometimes as low as 4000. Damp woods, high mountain meadows.


Folklore


With a certain spice and mild sting

Helping a bodies voice to sing

Alpine strength

Coaxes wildness from within

Rooted to the heavens

Rooting to rise

I am the mountain’s medicine


Properties: Pungent, slightly bitter, warm, dry, stimulating, relaxing, anti-bacterial, anti-Viral, analgesic. 


Uses: L. porteri is often recognized for its ability to heal the respiratory tract. This is due to the high quantity of silica that has a restorative action on the tissues of the lungs. As a stimulant diaphoretic with nasal decongestant, analgesic and antiviral action, L. porteri  is primarily used to treat conditions of the upper respiratory tract including sneezing and painful congested sinuses.


It is further useful for for conditions presenting obstruction or stasis in respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive functions as it is a stimulant and eliminant. In the digestive tract, L. porteri  is predictably warming and useful in clearing damp cold, such as flatulence.  For sore throats, this herb can be used because of its stimulant expectorant and anesthetic antiseptic actions. Finally, L. porteri  promotes menstruation and urination, and can also be used to expel afterbirth.


Parts used: Root


Traditional Ecological Knowledge: It has been observed the Tarahumara ue infusions of L. porteri during ritual curing ceremonies or for protecting individuals against witches and rattlesnakes. Similarly, in Zuni culture the root was chewed by both patient and medicine man during healing rituals. Arapahoe and Pawnee using the roots of L. porteri during sweat lodge ceremonies and purification rites and in Tonkawan peyote ceremonies it is mandatory for participants to bring L. porteri.


This herb has also been used as a fishing technology by the Tarahumar of northern Mexico as a fish poison.


The use of osha to treat sickness and promote “well-being” has played an important role among North American indigenous cultures for centuries. In 1988, researchers in Utah discovered a medicine bundle containing L. porteri, thought to be 200 to 400 years old. After analyzing the contents of the package, it was suggested that these items were not simply “stash items,” but rather of great significance. Medicinal applications of Ligusticum species include the following: antirheumatic; treatment for hair, lice, ticks, wounds, and skin and ear infections; as an anti-convulsive, analgesic, and fever treatment,for gastrointestinal problems or dietary aid,or colds, coughs, sore throats, and pulmonary or respiratory aid,treatment for anaemia, diabetes, and circulation or heart problems.” - Turi and Murch


House Of Origins favorite way to use L. porteri: Make a strong tea with dried or fresh root, inhale the vapours to clear any congestion and then drink the tea. You can also find this herb in our Lung Love formula here: https://houseoforigins.ca/collections/tinctures/products/lung-love


Word of warning: Osha can easily be confused for poison hemlock! Be sure to know the difference when harvesting. In addition to slight physical differences, osha root has an unmistakable smell.


Because of its limited habitat, L. porteri populations in the United States have been damaged due to overharvesting by the natural health community. Be very mindful when working with this herb.


References


Steven Foster and Chris Hobbs; Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs; Peterson Field Guides; 2002


Peter Holmes; The Energetics of Western Herbs: Treatment Strategies Integration Western and Oriental Herbal Medicine; 1997


Christina Turi and Susan J. Murch, The Genus Ligusticum in North America: An Ethnobotanical Review with Special Emphasis upon Species Commercially Known as ‘Osha’; HerbalGram; American Botanical Council; 2010


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