Osha Root (Bear Root)
Ligusticum porteri, known as oshá (pronounced o-SHAW or O-shaw), is a perennial herb found in parts of the Rocky Mountains and northern Mexico, especially in the southwestern United States.
Oshá is mainly a mountain plant, commonly found in deep, moist soils rich in organic material and requires partial shade. Oshá is widely distributed in the Rocky Mountains and the high mountains of northwestern Mexico. It grows at elevations from 5,000 feet to 10,000 feet.
Osha or Bear Root is woody and tough
This plant is strongly dependent on mycorrhizal fungi, and attempts to cultivate osha outside of its habitat have not been successful.
Has the typical appearance of members of the carrot family (apiaceae), with parsley-like leaves and double umbels of white flowers. Bases of the leaves where they attach to the root crowns have a reddish tint which is unique, and the roots are fibrous, with a dark, chocolate-brown, wrinkled outer skin. When this skin is removed, the inner root tissue is fibrous and yellowish-white with a pleasant "spicy celery" fragrance that resembles lovage (Levisticum officinale).
Roots have a collar of dead leaf material surrounding the root crowns which is hairlike in appearance. They dry very quickly and are very astringent when fresh, and can cause blistering of the mouth and mucous membranes in humans if eaten fresh. Dried roots do not have the astringent effect. Roots of older plants are far stronger and more bitter than those of younger plants.
Plants form large clumps over time and can reach heights of 6 to 7 feet and produce circular colonies with dozens of root crowns growing from a central root mass. Best harvested in the afternoon as the plants are relished by bears that visit the plants during the morning.
Oshá grows in the same habitat in areas of the Mountain West of North America with poison hemlock and water hemlock which it resembles, but is easily distinguished from it by its "spicy celery" odor, hair-like material on root crowns, and dark chocolate-brown, wrinkled root skin. Hemlock roots are white and fleshy and thin-skinned and typically heavily branched rather than carrot-like, but not always. Poison hemlock roots have little or no odor; the plants themselves smell "musty" or "mousy" or rank.
Oshá leaves have an intense fragrance when bruised and are typically larger than those of poison hemlock. Most poison hemlock plants have purple blotches or shading on the lower stem if they are mature, but not always the case. Unlike its poisonous cousins, oshá does not tolerate overly moist soils (because it depends on mycorrhizal fungi) and is never found growing in standing water. But, oshá and poison hemlock can be found only a few feet from each other.
If the plant is growing near water in consistently moist soil, is tall, has purple splotches on the main stem, and is heavily branched with small umbels of white flowers, it is probably poison hemlock and should be avoided. In any case, due to the high toxicity of poison hemlock, if a supposed oshá plant cannot be positively identified, it should be avoided.
Coniine, the main poison in hemlock species, can be absorbed through the skin. People who have come into contact with these plants, including crushing the leaves to perform a "smell test," should wash their hands immediately and avoid touching their eyes or mouth.
Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum, Heracleum maximum, Indian celery, or pushki, sometimes considered a subspecies of Heracleum sphondylium, hogweed or eltrot) is also confused with oshá and other plants with similar flower groupings. However, cow parsnip has large, broad leaves and an unpleasant odor.
Its common names include oshá root, Porter's lovage, Porter's licorice-root, wild lovage, Porter's wild lovage, overoot, Porter's ligusticum, bear medicine, bear root, Colorado cough root, Indian root, Indian parsley, wild parsley, mountain ginseng, mountain carrot, nipo, empress of the dark forest, chuchupate, chuchupati, chuchupaste, chuchupatle, guariaca, hierba del cochino or yerba de cochino, raíz del cochino, and washí (tarahumara). In the Jicarilla language, oshá is called ha’ich’idéé.
The White Mountain Apache call it ha 'il chii' gah. The Akimel O'Odham call it jujubáádi. The Rarámuri call is wasía.
Osha should be cut up into smaller pieces for best use
Ginger and osha root
My recommended use is for herb tea. The root is considered an immune booster and aid for coughs, pneumonia, colds, bronchitis, and the flu. It’s also used to relieve indigestion, aid lung diseases, body aches and sore throats. It is refreshing and serves as a general tonic.
Osha has many uses in Native American medicine. The A:shiwi use an infusion of the root for body aches. The root is also chewed by the medicine man and patient during curing ceremonies for various illnesses, and the crushed root and water used as wash and taken for sore throat. The Rarámuri use the root for the common cold, fevers, stomach pains, flatulence, rheumatism, for bites of poisonous animals, to protect infants from disease, and to ward off snakes and harmful magic.