Osha plant
The osha plant is also known as bear root and wild parsnip. Courtesy photo

Herb of the Month: Osha (Lingusticum porteri)

Have you ever watched a bear emerge from hibernation? Though we have plenty of bears here in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, I’ve only read stories. They’ve been recorded digging up the osha plant and then rubbing the roots over their coats just after waking up from their winter slumber.

Lingisticum porteri, also known as bear root, wild parsnip, Porter’s Lovage, or wild celery is most commonly known as osha in the herb world. In fact, osha means “bear” in a local Native American language.

This extraordinary plant is a potent antioxidant proven to reduce inflammatory markers in recent studies. For generations, Curanderos and Native healers have used osha for its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic properties. It has also been shown to increase oxytocin, the happiness hormone produced by the hypothalamus. Bear hug anyone?

Osha is a member of the carrot and parsley family. The flowering plant can grow up to 7 feet high in moist rich mountain soil. Osha is easily confused with poison hemlock in appearance, but it’s odor is different and carries an extremely strong celery scent.

Due to over-harvesting for many years, ethical wildcrafting is necessary to preserve this important gift from mother nature, as it is now considered endangered.

Not everyone has an ethnobotany professor as a neighbor, so it’s best to buy osha from a reputable organic source such as an online apothecary. It can easily be decocted (made into a tea), infused into a tincture, or added to a healing salve.

As with all healing herbs and supplements, it is important to discuss using osha with your doctor, especially if you or your pet are pregnant or nursing.

Read more Herb of the Month columns! 

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