Osha or oshá (Ligusticum porteri) is a perennial herb used for its medicinal properties. Osha grows in parts of the Rocky Mountains, especially in the North American Southwest. Uses include chewing to relieve sore throat.
Osha is strictly a mountain plant, and it is most commonly found in deep, moist soils rich in organic material. The plant requires partial shade. Osha is widely distributed from British Columbia south into Oregon and Washington State, and throughout the Rocky Mountains and the high mountains of New Mexico.
It is most common in the upper limits of the subalpine zone, so in the southern part of its range, it grows at elevations from 7,000 feet to 10,000 feet (2100 m to 3000 m), while from Utah, Wyoming, and Montana northwards, it grows as low as 5,000 feet (1500 m).
Osha is dependent on mycorrhizal fungi, and attempts to artificially cultivate the plant outside of its habitat have not been successful. Cultivation of osha in areas where it naturally grows have been more successful.
Osha has the typical appearance of members of the parsley family, with parsley-like leaves and umbels of white flowers. The bases of the leaves where they attach to the root crowns have a reddish tint which is unique, and the roots are fibrous, with a dark, chocolate-brown, wrinkled outer skin. When this skin is removed, the inner root tissue is fibrous and yellowish-white with an overpowering, pleasant "spicy celery" fragrance that resembles lovage (Levisticum officinale).
Osha roots have a collar of dead leaf material surrounding the root crowns which is hairlike in appearance. The roots dry very quickly and are very astringent when fresh, and can cause blistering of the mouth and mucous membranes in humans if ingested fresh.
The dried roots do not have this astringent affect. Roots of older plants are far stronger and bitterer than those of younger plants. Native Americans typically harvest the younger plants for medicinal use.
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