We had our second round of snow up at 8,600 feet in the Colorado Mountains, several frosts, and today a happy sunny blue sky. Time to get out and follow the calling of Osha. I went to a familiar aspen grove and spent my time in the midst of the deliciousness of bear medicine.
Osha is a Native American perennial herb from the parsley family also known as bear medicine, Loveroot, Lovage, Porter’s Ligusticum, Chuchupate, Wild Parsley, Mountain Ginseng, and Colorado Cough Root. Osha often grows in thick, extensive patches and prefers moist, fertile ground.
I have a special romance with Osha. I love her scent, so intoxicating, powerful, and yet tender. Her camphor-like aroma penetrates the soil around her, stays with me for hours, and reminds me of her wild, untamable spirit whenever I taste or inhale her.
People have tried to domesticate Osha, cultivate or transplant her, but she has a mind of her own. She is happiest stretching out her roots next to her taller sister, the aspen; when you are with those two you will feel the symbiotic harmony. Osha does not breathe the rhythm of modern times and so we can only humbly get on our knees, after frost has long penetrated the soil, use our bare hands (and maybe a wooden stick or an antler), and be part of, be engulfed in the forest. So precious, so nourishing, so very divine.
Osha root is said to have a variety of medicinal properties: antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial are probably the most well-known. Osha is often used for respiratory problems (such as sore throat, inflammation of the bronchial tubes, cough, common cold, influenza), to treat stagnation of energy in the body, and as a constitutional tonic. Native Americans have used Osha for centuries to increase endurance.
Identifying and Harvesting Osha Root
Osha lives in a symbiotic relationship with the Aspen of the high country. So, this is where I start my journey. I know many of the Aspen groves in my area and visit them in the summer, looking at the outline of the osha family, the older plants vs. the young growth. That makes it easier for me to go back at a time when Osha has pulled all her energy underground. Please, ask a trusted and experienced wildcrafter or herbalist and find a place you can ethically harvest this divine plant from. Never take more than you need, one Osha root will last you a long while.
Below I will give you a little tour of my Osha harvesting journey. I am feeling blessed and grateful that this amazing plant lives so close by:
Yes, indeed, this looks like a bunch of dried-up “something.”
If lucky I see a dry flower bud which makes it so much easier to identify Mother Osha, as I at times like to call her. But again she cannot be identified with certainty, as only the shape, smell, and color of the root will allow me to recognize her.
And here is my all-time favorite digging tool. A broken-off elk antler I found somewhere in the woods many years ago. It has the perfect shape and size. It penetrates the top layer of frozen ground and yet is delicate enough to not destroy any of the root, if used carefully.
First I take my time to really get a feel for the plant I am most drawn to and carefully remove the top layer of soil just around the crown of the plant, using my hands only. I am looking for roots with a dark, chocolate-brown, wrinkled outer skin, the typical collar of dead leaf material surrounding the root crowns which are hair-like in appearance, and mostly the beautifully intoxicating “spicy celery” like aroma. When the skin is removed, the inner root tissue looks fibrous and white/yellowish.
In the picture below you can see the hairy tips of the root crown.
After an hour of digging, mostly with my bare hands to not destroy the root system, this is what I have in front of me: A beautiful, aromatic, big Osha root.
Before I fill in the hole with dirt I like saying thanks, give a little offering, expressing my gratitude. I then cover up the hole with Aspen leaves and snow and leave no trace other than my foot prints in the snow.
How to prepare Osha Root
There are several ways you can prepare Osha root. My favorite is Osha honey, Osha hard candy, Osha moxa, and Osha tincture. You can also make Osha compresses, soaks, teas, and hang Osha root in your house for protection.
I will make Osha honey and tincture from the root I just gathered.
With my hands frozen and dirty I brought my divine treasure inside. I like to clean off the dirt form the root, using hands and water only. By now the smell of Osha is all over my kitchen, deep inside my respiratory system, while penetrating my skin.
I typically divide the root into two sections. The tubular ends are fantastic for making Osha honey, to be chewed on by themselves, or to be dried for later usage. The thicker, upper part of the root lends herself for tinctures or teas; sometimes I use that part in the same way moxa is being used. I dry it and burn it in my house (preferably close to my body) when I desire clearing or shifts of energy, or simply long for the lovely fragrance of Osha root.
I took the “upper” part plus a whole bunch of Usnea and immersed both in vodka and agave nectar. Both, Osha and Usnea have antiviral properties and I very much like that combination.
I cut the tubular ends into little pieces and added them to raw Colorado honey. Lucky me, I still had some Sage from my garden, so I added as much as I had saved. Sage and Osha is another wonderful combination.
The root I harvested today will last me several years. Please, if you find a sizable stand, develop a personal relationship with it. Pay close attention to the growth of the plant population, harvest respectfully, and be aware how your harvesting is affecting the population.
WARNING: If you don’t know how to identify Osha with 100% certainty, do not consume ANY parts of the plant. It is easy to confuse Osha with the extremely poisonous relatives Poison Hemlock and Water Hemlock. The leaves of Osha and Poison Hemlock are very similar. Osha must be identified by the root. The pictures I took and the description given are NOT enough to identify Osha on your own. I am not a trained herbalist. Please find an expert herbalist who has dug Osha root many times. Be sure to buy Osha from a reputable source, so you can feel confident that the product really is Osha.
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