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The Art and Practice of Healing with Plant Medicines
Osha, the Next Generation
excerpt from Chapter Two:
The Gamut of Herbal Possibility
A BIDING RESPECT for the healing gifts of a plant goes hand in hand with an abiding respect for that plant as a living entity. Loss of habitat and overharvesting have put certain herbs at the top of United Plant Savers' endangered plant list (see page 309) for good reason. Some concerned herbalists no longer wildcraft plants such as osha, which an ever demanding market could quickly decimate. And yet herbalists who live in the mountainous West, where this root herb seems abundant, wonder if we really need to go so far as to strike Ligusticum porteri from our collective materia medica.
Osha has so far proven impossible to cultivate. This member of the Parsley Family is a stickler for wildness, growing only at elevations of 9,000 feet or more. Wildcrafters gathering osha could help its regeneration, however, by understanding more about its life cycle. Richard McDonald of Desert Bloom Herbs in New Mexico shared with us the following insights he learned from a man, Shawn Sigstedt, who has studied different species of Ligusticum all over the world.
Umbel seed head of osha
illustration © Robin Wimbiscus
"We can obtain a 96 percent germination rate from osha seed," states Richard. "A person can actually regenerate more than the amount they dig, very easily. The trick is to make sure the seeds are ready to fall of the plant. The seeds cannot be green, but need to be brown and dry. Some of the seeds from the umbel probably will have fallen off already. By holding the stem just below the umbel, and then gently breaking off the brittle stalk below with the other hand, a person can usually collect the entire umbel without losing too many seeds. After a soft flat 'step' has been prepared on the hillside (where the seeds will be planted), the individual umbelettes are gently broken off the main umbel. These have five to seven seeds each and are placed upside down on the earthen step, looking much like mini tipis. The oil duct of the seed needs to be in an upside-down position for optimum germination. Space these out rather closely, since osha plants like to grow together, intertwining their roots into a large mass. All the planting steps should be carefully covered with light soil and decaying leaves, but not too deeply, perhaps 1/2 to 1 inch is best. Then, as an added precaution, I try to protect the newly seeded area with branches, small logs, or whatever is nearby to prevent animals from smashing the new seedlings as they sprout. I tell people to collect osha only in the fall season, when the seeds are ready to plant."
"My firm belief is that, unless people adhere to this technique, they should just leave osha alone adds Richard. "Or buy it from those of us who really are concerned with the status of the stands and are willing to spend just as much, if not more time replanting this marvelous herb as we do collecting the live roots."
The Herbalist's Way: