The root of Ligusticum porteri, known as Oshá, has long been esteemed–particularly among Native Americans and Hispanic populations in the Southwest and Mexico–as a traditional remedy for colds, sore throat and other ailments. Its use as an herbal remedy has increased significantly in the North American natural products market over the past two decades.
Oshá currently is not tracked by any state or federal conservation agencies, and comprehensive management strategies are lacking. In the face of increasing concern about this species’ possible decline due to increased demand and unsustainable harvest practices, our group at the University of Kansas began a collaborative effort with the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests, beginning in summer 2012. Through this project we obtained baseline data on Oshá populations and their resilience to different pressures from harvesting. From these data, we calculated sustainable rates of Oshá harvest that might be used as a guideline for wild harvesters to follow, and that could be used by the Forest Service to establish collecting permits for the sustainable harvest of Oshá. Details on this work can be found here.
Oshá, bear root or chuchupate, was used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, particularly those relating to the lungs and heart. Oshá is a slow-growing member of the parsley family (Apiaceae). Its roots are currently wild-harvested by individuals and herbal product companies for sale and use in treating influenza, bronchitis and sore throat.
Oshá also has a long history of use by Hispanics in New Mexico and the southwestern United States (Moore 2003*). Its significance in these cultures is highlighted by the fact that all locations containing the name Oshá are only located in New Mexico and in proximity to Hispanic communities.
* all references, plus more information can be found in Kindscher et al. 2013
The roots are the part of the plant primarily used as a medicine. Depending on the ailment and area treated, the roots may be used to make a dressing, paste or liniment; made into an ointment; made into tea or a tincture; chewed; and even burned to clear the sinuses and relieve headaches (Terrell and Fennell 2009). Hispanic and Native Americans still use Oshá roots to treat a broad array of medical ailments today. The roots are also used commercially to treat bronchitis, influenza and other respiratory problems (West and Jackson 2004).
As food, Oshá produces a flavor described as “chervil-celery-parsley flavor” (Turi and Murch 2010) or a “pungent cross of flavors reminiscent of celery and licorice” (Terrell and Fennell 2009). The leaves, seeds and roots are used to season meat, beans and chilies (Moore 2003; Scientific Authority of the United States of America 2000; Turi and Murch 2010). Leaves also can be boiled and eaten like greens or added raw to salads (Moore 2003; Moerman 2012; Terrell and Fennell 2009; Turi and Murch 2010). In addition, Oshá roots are boiled for use in salads and soups, or eaten raw (Turi and Murch 2010).
Ligusticum porteri is distributed throughout the Rocky Mountain range, spanning Montana and Wyoming in the north, through Colorado, Nevada and Utah, to New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico (Scientific Authority of the United States of America 2000; Terrell and Fennell 2009; Turi and Murch 2010). Oshá occurs in high-elevation sites, with a preference for elevations ranging from 9,500 feet to 11,500 feet (Cech 2002; Terrell and Fennell 2009), and it is often found near or within groves of aspen, conifers, fir and oak (Cech 2002; Moore 2003; Scientific Authority of the United States of America 2000; Turi and Murch 2010).
Differentiation between Oshá and other species is challenging but possible through careful examination of plant height and leaf structure (Cech 2002; Turi and Murch 2010). Particularly when it occurs within the range of fir and aspen forests, Oshá can be confused with poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) (Cech 2002; Moore 2003). Distinguishing L. porteri from poison hemlock requires a thorough examination of seeds and roots, including the smell of the roots (Moore 2003; Turi and Murch 2010).
Learn More about our work with Oshá