Carrot-like in appearance, osha plants are native herbs to the Rocky Mountains and Southwest regions of the United States. The plants feature a thin stalk with divided leaves and white flowers. Osha root is used in many traditional Native American and Chinese herbal formulas.
Growing up to two feet (one-half of a meter) in height, the osha plant has an umbrella-shaped arrangement of flowers and seeds. Its leaves are fern-shaped and spotted, ranging from green to golden yellow. The plant has an aroma similar to celery. Osha roots are hairy, with a brown exterior and yellow interior.
Dry, upland ravines and meadows are ideal for growing osha plants. Most commercial osha roots are collected from the wild, as the plants are not domesticated well. An antibacterial and antiviral remedy, osha root has been prescribed by modern herbalists for dozens of ailments, including sinus congestion, asthma, allergies, and the common cold. When ingested, the root creates a tingling sensation on the tongue.
Indigestion is a common ailment treated by osha root. Respiratory infections, coughs, flu symptoms, poor appetites, cramping, sore throats, stomach pain, and many other health problems have been remedied by osha root as well. Use of the root can vary from teas and tinctures to capsules and extracts. Some people also use the osha medicinal herb in saunas or steams.
Native American tribes used the osha root in smoking blends. The plant is sacred to many peoples, including the Aztec, Zuni, Yaqui, Mescelero Apache, Chiricahua, and Tarahumara tribes. In addition to smoking the herb, these tribes ate the seeds and leaves of the plant for endurance and medicinal purposes. The root itself was burned as an incense for protection, as well as wrapped in leaves and placed near babies to purify the air near them.
Osha roots are also known as bear medicine, mountain ginseng, Colorado cough root, Porter's wild lovage, Indian root, chuchupate, Porter's ligusticum, loveroot, nipo, wild parsley, empress of the dark forest, and mountain carrot. The plant's scientific name is Lingusticum porteri. When sold by the whole root, the plant is moderately priced and available by the pound (half-kilogram) or quarter-pound (114 grams).
A similar species grown in China, the Lingusticum wallichii, has the same uses and features as the osha plant. Osha roots are very similar to the poisonous hemlock plant; people who intend to use the herb should be certain of its origin prior to using it. Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult a physician before using osha root. The osha herb has not definitively been tested for safety on children.