The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), in collaboration with United Plant Savers (UpS), has commenced production of a monograph and therapeutic compendium for osha (Ligusticum porteri, Apiaceae) root, an herb with extensive traditional use among native tribes in the western part of North America.1 While many species in the Ligusticum genus have been called “osha,” L. porteri is considered “true osha”2; other common names include bear medicine, bear root, Colorado cough root, Porter’s lovage, Porter’s licorice-root, Porter’s wild lovage, loveroot, mountain lovage, Indian parsley, mountain ginseng, nipo, and chuchupate.3
Osha has extensive ritual significance in addition to its medicinal uses. Primarily used for upper respiratory infections, osha also has been traditionally indicated for headaches, fevers, infections, and wound care. A member of the Apiaceae (or carrot) family, osha’s root is the primary medicinal component of the plant. It is sold in a variety of forms, including whole roots, dried or fresh; root tincture; liquid herbal extract; and capsules containing root powder.2,3
Following a grant from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Education and Research Foundation to Kelly Kindscher, PhD, to conduct a sustainability study recording the impact of wild collection on osha populations, AHP noted that no monograph on the herb exists. “This was due to [an] observed increasing trend of osha use in industry and long-term concerns regarding the sustainability of the botanical due to it being a high elevation herb that has thus far resisted a number of attempts to [cultivate it commercially],” wrote AHP President Roy Upton (email, August 25, 2014). “From these discussions, and because of the importance of osha in indigenous North American herbal traditions, AHP believes it was a great candidate for a monograph.”
Though there are no official export controls in place, osha is considered a “species at risk” of overharvest by UpS4 due to its limited, high-elevation growing area and lack of commercial cultivation. Dr. Kindscher’s research, an ongoing multiyear project, seeks to determine the status of osha populations in the wild as well as the impact of root harvest and optimal harvest rates to maintain long-term viability.3 As the market use of the plant trends upwards, Upton hopes that the forthcoming monograph will serve as an important resource to members of the industry, researchers, herbalists, ethnobotanists, growers, and wildcrafters.
In addition to addressing conservation concerns, the monograph also will note the possibility of adulteration. “[T]here has been reported adulteration of osha, including with other species of Ligusticum, which may legitimately be used interchangeably, and the highly toxic poison hemlock [Conium maculatum, Apiaceae] and water hemlock [Cicuta douglasii, Apiaceae],” wrote Upton. The similarity in appearance among members of the Apiaceae family can lead to unintentional adulteration as well.
Currently, AHP is seeking donors and sponsors for the completion of the monograph, which has a total projected budget of $14,700. This would mark the 36th monograph published by AHP, following its historic cannabis monograph in December 2013.
- American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) in collaboration with United Plant Savers (UpS) embarks on osha monograph and therapeutic compendium [press release]. Scotts Valley, California: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; August 20, 2014.
- Turi C, Murch SJ. The genus Ligusticum in North America: an ethnobotanical review with special emphasis upon species commercially known as ‘osha’. HerbalGram. 2010;89:40-51. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue89/FEAT_OshaLigusticum.html. Accessed August 26, 2014.
- Kindscher K, Yang J, Long Q, Craft R, Loring H. Harvest Sustainability Study of Wild Populations of Osha, Ligusticum porteri. Open-File Report No. 176. Kansas Biological Survey. Lawrence, Kansas. 2013. Available at: http://nativeplants.ku.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Osha-Report-2013.pdf. Accessed August 25, 2014.
- Species At-Risk: At-Risk List. United Plant Savers website. Available at: www.unitedplantsavers.org/content.php/161-species-at-risk_1. Accessed August 25, 2014.