Osha: A Smokeable Spirit Medicine

oshaimageAlthough Osha, Ligusticum porteri, is native to the Rocky Mountains and the American Southwest, and doesn’t grow wild here in the Portland, Oregon, area, where I live, I’ve long felt drawn to work with it. I had heard that Osha was a powerful antiviral and lung medicine in the parsley family*, used as a diaphoretic, anesthetic, bitter, and expectorant, as well as for headaches, and that it can be smoked.

I think I first smelled its sweet odor burned as incense three years ago, but it really popped on my radar earlier this spring when I heard shamanic herbalist and author Matthew Wood talk about Osha in a lecture on “Bear Medicines,” herbs that have been associated with use by bears in North America by indigenous people — which therefore tend to be roots and berries. Matthew mentioned that Osha can be worn as a protective charm against contagion. As he spoke, I remembered that I had read a passage about Osha root in Eliot Cowan’s excellent book “Plant Spirit Medicine,” specifically its use by a medicine man named Don Enrique Salmon whose family came from the Raramuri tribe in Mexico:

“My plant spirit helper is what we call chuchupate or the Mexicans call it osha. It is a very powerful plant…I use it for infections, cuts, arthritis, headaches, sore throats, colds, stomach aches. It cures almost anything. You make a strong tea or just take the root and chew it.” It repels rattlesnakes and witches…Osha talks to me sometimes.”

Then, just about a month ago, while I was in Santa Cruz, California, attending an herbal seminar at Michael Tierra’s East West School of Planetary Herbology, where I am a student, Ayurveda teacher Candis Cantin was passing around samples of different plants she works with for us to smell and taste, and it just so happened that one of them was Osha root. I took a thick piece of the root and smelled its sweetness and put it in my medicine bag to get to know later. At night I meditated with the intention of getting to know the plant. I sent it my respect and gratitude, and settled into my heart space, inviting the plant sit with me and share its presence with mine. To my surprise, I had a vivid sensation of a strong, tall person standing behind me doing energy work on my body. As a Reiki master and frequent meditator, I am used to feeling the presence of plant spirits, but rarely so intensely as this! Often I can feel energy shifting but rarely does it feel like a human being standing in the room next to me.

Osha roots; photographer unknown

Osha roots; photographer unknown

When I got back to Portland, I invited some close friends over to meditate with Osha root with me on the full moon. We smoked it in a pipe that we passed around the circle and then we all sat with this shared intention, once again sending the plant our respect and gratitude for its medicine, and our receptivity to receiving its wisdom. This time, we all had a potent experience. We all experienced the spirit as masculine, more serious than playful, but warm and kind. It gave us a strong feeling of rootedness into the Earth, and we felt relaxed, reassured, and safe. A couple people there, who had mild social anxiety, reported that they had the strong sensation of self-acceptance, feeling very secure in their worth and comfortable with their uniqueness. Two others received profound, life-changing realizations of a personal nature.

For me, I felt as if the energy of the plant took me underground to a deep, special, magical place I have experienced before only with ayahuasca. As I began to think during this experience, naming with my mind the place I was in as “underground,” my journey halted and seemed to shift me out of where I was and bring me back to the normal everyday place where I live, interacting with the world through my mind. By contrast, the place beneath words, the place we enter through meditation and journeying, the spirit world, is a much richer, more expansive, more magical, more sensual place where things are not predictable, but much more exciting. I saw then that relying too much on the mind and rushing to define my experiences in order to grasp them has the effect of limiting the flow of the magic, because attaching limited understandings (ie. words) onto experiences takes us out of the moment, instead of allowing it to unfold in its uniqueness.

Though I have been working with plant spirits in this way for years now and have taught many plant spirit classes, long-time readers of this blog will find this sort of blog post to seem quite new. I initially started this as a wildcrafting blog, at first talking about edibles and then getting into the physical medicines, and then later the metaphysical properties of the plants. Now I experience plants in this full spectrum way, and I am excited to share it with you.

If this approach speaks to you, too, then you would love my upcoming Plant Spirit Retreat on the summer solstice, June 20-22, at a very special retreat center 30 minutes south of Portland, Oregon, at the Still Meadow Retreat Center. This is going to be a very powerful and magical experience, designed for people at all levels of plant spirit work and intuitive development, especially beginners, who are ready to deepen their connection with Earth, and will be packed full of plant spirit meditations, plant identification walks, smoking ceremonies, past-life regression, and a solstice celebration fire ceremony! The tuition is only $277 as long as you sign up before June 10, and you can pick from an array of options for room and board on the relaxing premises.

Check out photos and details here!

Upcoming Classes:
Elder & Passionflower Plant Spirit Meditation – Thursday, June 12, 6:30 to 8:30 pm, at New Renaissance Bookshop, $20
Elder and Passionflower are two powerful plant spirit allies who love to deepen and ignite your psychic abilities. Together, they center us in the heart space, heighten our receptivity to spirit, and activate the pineal gland and third eye to help us move between worlds. Come learn about these two plants and get to know these two plants intimately with a powerful guided meditation experience.

Plant Spirit Retreat on the Summer Solstice – Friday June 20 to Sunday June 22, at Still Meadow Retreat Center in Damascus, Oregon, $277 + room & board
An incredible experience of communing with nature in community, while igniting and developing your intuitive skills!

Room Options
Private Room* – $86/night
Shared Room – $58/night
Dorm Room – $30/night
Camping – $20/night
Commuting – $10/day
*There are a limited number of private rooms, first come first serve.
(These prices include taxes)

Food Options
A) All Inclusive: $80 (Fri: Dinner, Sat: Breakfast + Lunch + Dinner & Sun: Breakfast + Lunch)
B) Late Riser: $60 (Fri: Dinner, Sat: Lunch + Dinner & Sun Lunch)
Note: Gluten-free meals are $1.25 extra per meal

Sign up with your tuition payment here and then email BFKaye@gmail.com your room/board choice to join us!
*Thanks for reading! Please share this post.*

* Safety warning: Osha looks a lot like poison hemlock, which is also in the parsley family. Be careful not to confuse the two if you are harvesting this herb.

Leave a Reply

  1. Great blog post. Have you ever listened to the Mysterious Universe podcast? They talk alot about the Pineal Gland, ayahuasca (or Mother Ayahuasca) and your experience with Osha Root reminds me a lot of their research and discussion regarding using plants as reality altering meditation tools.

  2. Please emphasize that O’sha has become increasingly rare due to over-harvesting. The plant is incredibly effective, which has made it popular commercially. But this sacred medicine is becoming worked over and exhausted. The root is the medicinal part of the plant, so when it gets harvested it kills the whole plant. This plant is considered both Bear medicine and Snake medicine in many native cultures. Some tribes observed bears eating it in the springtime, helping to cleanse themselves of the toxins built up in their body after hibernating all winter. It’s a very effective, and very sacred plant, please treat it with respect!

    • Hannah, thank you for emphasizing that this is over-harvested. I wonder how hard it would be to grow in one’s own garden/yard?

      • L. porteri can be fairly difficult to cultivate in the absence of its mycorhizal partners. For this reason, many herbalists (like Susun Weed) recommend extremely small doses, while others prefer to use a different species all together. I believe Howie Brounstein harvests L. grayi in the Cascades, but only from large, mid-elevation patches (never sup-alpine or other small or sensitive populations).

        Even still, these other species are relatively similar in their sensitivity to over-harvesting, so there are also those herbalists who prefer to use an entirely different plant or plants with similar properties that are more sustainably wildcrafted.

  3. Brilliant! I am going to experiment with various herbs and plants in a e-cigarette thingy to see if anything helps my migraines. I am going to grow Butterfly Pea, for example, since the properties attributed to its leaves and roots seem promising for pain management as well. Thank you soooo much for posting about Osha.