I first met Sweet Root, Osmorhiza occidentalis, also known as Western Sweet Cicely, in a plant spirit workshop taught by Scott Kloos of the School of Forest Medicine in Portland a couple winters back. It was a great big group of people sitting together and meditating with herbs to get to know the spirit medicine and spirit personalities of plants — a very cool experience. There might have been sixty people there.
Scott taught us that the primary physical medicinal use for this plant was to assist digestion, and that it could counteract food intolerances if taken with the offending food. He classified it also as an anti-fungal herb useful for addressing candida.
Traditionally, indigenous tribes have used a decoction of the roots for gas pains and upset stomach, according to Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman. This book also lists many other uses for a root decoction including as an antiseptic wash for the eye and for “venereal sores”; externally as a poultice snakebite remedy; and internally for whooping cough, colds and pnuemonia,
What interested me personally most about Sweet Root is its spiritual healing properties. Through meditation, I observed that this plant has an affinity for assisting with issues held in the root chakra, the energy center at the very base of our torso that stores our attitudes and experiences to do with feeling safe, social belonging, connection to place, financial concerns, and groundedness. It has a very gentle, nurturing essence. I often work with it during my Plant Spirit Reiki sessions for people who feel uprooted or isolated, socially anxious, or unsure of where they stand in life. If this describes you, I recommend meditating with a taste of the tincture in your mouth, or meditating while holding a physical part of the plant, unless you are very sensitive and are accustomed to working with energies, in which case physical connection is not essential.
I have found and made medicine from what I believe to be the closely related species O. berteroi, also known as O. chilensis, in the forests around Portland. There are relatives of this plant elsewhere (different species, same genus) throughout all of North America and parts of South America as well.
Sweet Root is in the Apiaceae family, also known as the carrot family, which includes Queen Anne’s lace (a.k.a. wild carrot), poison hemlock, angelica, and others.
The herb that I have seen is usually about a foot tall, but my field guides tell me it could theoretically grow up to a meter in height. It has leaves twice divided into three parts — look for nine leaflets, coarsely toothed — and most notably, the fruit are little black-brown elongated seed pods (which are green when young). When in flower, the blossoms are tiny and white. If you come across a plant you think may meet this description, you can crush and smell the seed pods, and if the scent is of anise, you have it right.
As the name suggests, the roots are the part that I tincture (in brandy). They are little taproots and not so easy to dig up, and not so easy to find either. It grows in wet places at low to middle elevations in the Cascades and Olympic Mountains. I usually find it in the shade or maybe with partial sun but never directly in the open. It’s does inhabit Forest Park, the largest city wilderness area here in Portland, but is fairly sparse.
I will be giving a free presentation on healing with local plant spirits of the area on Nov. 7 from 1 to 2 pm at the Body Mind Spirit Expo, at the Convention Center, which is 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. BLVD, Portland, OR. The fee for admission to the expo is $12 at the door.
If you’d like to have your own experience meditating with plant spirits, consider applying for my herbal apprenticeship program, which goes March to October 2016. It’s tremendously fun! Here are a few of my wonderful graduates from the 2015 course, displaying their plant journals and certificates: