Ligusticum: Osha

by Paul Bergner

Osha was, to the native inhabitants of the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains, what echinacea was to the natives of the Great Plains — their most important plant for infections. It is one of the most-often prescribed plants by herbalists in that region today, including at our clinic at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in Boulder, Colorado. We use it extensively in colds, flu, sore throats, and bronchial infections. The tincture or the tea is antibacterial, and can be used as a wash or compress on cuts, abrasions, infected wounds, ulcers, or herpes sores. It is also a potent antiviral herb. In the petrie dish its constituent Z-ligustilide is about one-half as potent as ribavirin (Virazole), a conventional antiviral drug used against viruses such as influenza and herpes (Beck and Stermitz 1995). The antiviral constituents are soluble only in alcohol, so you will need to chew the dried root — the traditional method — take dried capsules, or use the tincture. If you use the capsules, break them open and put them in some warm water so the membranes of the mouth and throat can be exposed to the herb. For colds and flu it works best, like echinacea, if you take it at the first signs of infection. Use it in higher doses — up to a teaspoon of the tincture — every two or three hours, to abort a cold.

Southwest herbalist Michael Moore, who has taught the use of this plant widely and introduced the larger herbal community to it, tells how to make an osha cough syrup:

“Grind up the root, and steep in twice its volume of honey over low heat for an hour, then press out [the plant material] when it is partially cooled.” (Moore 1979).

A similar plant is used in Chinese medicine to induce uterine contractions, so this plant is probably contraindicated in pregnancy.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner 

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