Taos Herb column

Herb of the Month: Oshá de la sierra

To be harvested in the fall after the seeds have ripened to promote the propagation of the plant

By Rob Hawley
For The Taos News
Posted 10/10/18

In New Mexico folk medicine, oshá de la sierra root is sometimes worn on the boots to repel viboras (rattlesnakes) and kept in the pocket or under the pillow. It is said to repel infection and mal ojo (the evil eye).

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Taos Herb column

Herb of the Month: Oshá de la sierra

To be harvested in the fall after the seeds have ripened to promote the propagation of the plant

Posted

Common names: Oshá, Bear root, chuchupate, Porter's lovage.  Genus/species: Ligusticum porteri.  Family: Apiaceae

Oshá de la sierra is a member of the same plant family as celery and carrot with the typical "umbrella-like" flowers peculiar to this family. Confusing information abounds about this plant, partly due to other plants being referred to as "oshá" and also because a few of the most poisonous plants in North America are in the same family and resemble it. Oshá de la sierra (Ligusticum porteri) is native to the North American Rocky Mountains and is often confused with levisiticum officinale, commonly called oshá del campo or oshá del jardin. Levisiticum is not a native plant and was introduced to North America, most likely by Spanish settlers, and is still found in many gardens in New Mexico.

After the last ice age, oshá del la sierra adapted to high altitudes (between 8,500-10,000 feet), so the seeds will not grow when washed down below about 8,500 feet, and the seed does not survive when eaten by birds, preventing the genes of the plant from being distributed over a larger area. All of this means that each stand of oshá de la sierra is genetically isolated from other stands of the plant, making each little population unique and easily damaged by overpicking or harvesting too early in the season, thus preventing seed maturation and new seedling growth.

Oshá de la sierra should always be harvested in the fall after the seeds have ripened to promote the propagation of the plant. When the plant is picked earlier in the season, it destroys the chance the plant has to reseed. This is so important because oshá de la sierra has increasing pressure on its populations due to its ever-growing popularity.

It is recommended to harvest only a part of the plant's root system, leaving living roots in the ground, then set the little umbels filled with ripened seed upside down on the ground to promote germination. This ensures that each plant goes on living and that populations will increase.

Oshá de la sierra is potent with aromatic oils that are antibacterial, promote diaphoresis (perspiration), increase secretions in the lungs and sinus, soothe a sore throat and relax intestinal and menstrual cramps. Oshá de la sierra is also regarded by many native people of the Americas as bear spirit medicine

In New Mexico folk medicine, oshá de la sierra root is sometimes worn on the boots to repel viboras (rattlesnakes) and kept in the pocket or under the pillow. It is said to repel infection and mal ojo (the evil eye).

All of this makes oshá de la sierra a special plant and one we all have a responsibility to honor and protect.

Consult your health care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication.

Rob Hawley co-owns Taos Herb Company. Call with questions or suggestions for the column to (575) 758-1991 or visit the website taosherb.com.

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