I had my first experience with osha root (Ligusticum porteri) in a blind-folded herbal tasting in school. Lots of different flavors were going around the room, and after taking a sip of what I found out later was osha root tea, I sat back in my chair, took a deep breath, and my bottom lip started to quiver.
I thought, “Oh shit. I am going to completely lose it.”
And I did. I started crying. I couldn’t talk. I packed up my notebooks and left class to go home. Now, I am a hardcore student; I don’t just leave class. One of my teachers called to check on me.
I said, “I’m not sure what happened in there, but I’ve been going through a lot emotionally in my relationship. I’ve been tired and stressed. And when I drank that tea, I couldn’t hold it in anymore! The heat of it just tipped my scales. It felt so volatile.”
She totally understood that in herb school, during such a transformative time, these things happen.
But what I got from that experience is that osha is an herb of movement, and it is now one of my favorite remedies to support the immune system during colds, flus, sore throats and bronchial infections.
Known as bear medicine, Matthew Wood in his book titled The Book Of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicine explains this concept further:
“The bear…represents the idea of taking care of people. The mother bear guards her cubs ferociously…The hibernation of the bear also pointed to its relationship to medicine plants which reactivate digestion and metabolism. The people watched the bear in the spring to see what it first went out to eat. These plants are called Bear Medicine (Osha Root, Lomatium, and Balsam Root). Each of these sends up parts which look like furry brown paws and contains resins which stir up fats and oils, stimulate circulation, and remove mucus. Generally, bear medicines work on the lungs, heart, and liver – the aeration, circulation, and metabolism of the body” (p13).
That is certainly what I feel when I take osha: a sense of relaxation and warmth flows over me, and increased circulation from my mouth, down my throat, into my belly, and all through my chest. And then the mucus starts clearing.
Maybe I have an unproductive cough, with osha it becomes productive.
Or maybe I have that sore, raw throat, osha soothes it.
Or maybe I have that chest ache that accompanies a respiratory infection, osha relieves it.
Or maybe my stomach is upset, alongside whatever infection I am enduring, and osha settles it right down.
And don’t even get me started on how wonderful this herb is to bring on a nice fever. Sometimes I eat a ball or two in a hot mustard bath when I am sick. Whew! It’s a very healing experience.
The point here is that whatever uncomfortable stage of an infection I am experiencing, osha makes it all a bit more tolerable because that’s really what we need when we are sick, right? The last thing we want to do is an anti-inflammatory drug or something that dries up mucus production. Instead we want to help the body do its job, and that’s what osha does: it helps us be sick well (how’s that for a play on words?).
In his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, late herbalist Michael Moore accurately calls osha root “Celery-from-Hell.” The preparation in the video below mitigates that taste with honey and licorice, and this is what I have in a glass jar in our fridge to pull us through the winter season.
I have purchased my dried osha root both from a farmer’s market in Santa Fe, as well as from Voyage Botanica.
Mountain Rose Herbs offers it, too.
Eat your osha root in peace,
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