Osha root is a herbal medicine that has been used by various mountain-dwelling North American cultures throughout history. It is now prescribed by herbalists, but it’s not dangerous to self-prescribe it as well. Osha has many uses, and you can find it in tincture or dried form in herb stores across the U.S.
Osha root is used to induce a productive cough or cure a sore throat when chewed or sucked as a lozenge. Like other bitter roots, it is also used to soothe the digestive tract and even stimulate appetite. Chinese medicine has used an herb similar to osha to induce sweating during sickness in order move the sickness more quickly out of the body. Practical uses include treating pneumonia, a dry cough, altitude sickness and asthma.
Osha root is found only in the mountainous regions of western North America, from Canada to Mexico. It doesn’t do well under cultivation, and is almost impossible to domesticate. For this reason, most osha root is wild-crafted, or gathered from the wild. However, this has led to over-harvesting, leaving osha root threatened in some regions.
Osha is in the Umbelliferae family, like dill, parsley, carrot, poisonous hemlock, Queen Anne’s lace and fennel. These plants have thin, hollow stems with many-fingered, small leaves. The family's Latin name can be attributed to the fact that they look like umbrellas covered in tiny flowers. Osha is distinctive for its extremely hairy root. The root is brown on the outside and yellow on the inside. Be careful not to mistake it for one of its poisonous cousins, especially hemlock, as the upper portion looks very similar.
Osha root goes by many names, such as Colorado cough root, love root, Porter’s wild lovage and mountain ginseng. However, “osha” and many other indigenous names for the root actually translate to “bear” or “bear root.” It got this nomenclature because bears seek it out after hibernation to stimulate their appetite. They also seek it out when sick, or simply to roll around in it like a cat does in catnip.
Osha’s root is the medicinal portion of the plant. The root is dried, and can then be chewed, sucked or made into a decoction or tincture. For a decoction, use 2 to 4 grams of the dried root per cup of tea.
Pregnant or nursing women should not use osha root, nor should children under the age of 6, as further safety studies are needed.