The Health Benefits of Osha

Dried osha

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In This Article

Osha (Ligusticum porteri) has traditionally been used by Native American and Hispanic cultures as a treatment for conditions like pneumonia, colds, bronchitis, influenza, tuberculosis, hay fever, and coughs. Today, the extract is commonly used as a decongestant and some believe it boosts the immune system.

A perennial herb and member of the carrot or parsley family (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae), the osha plant is most commonly found along forest edges and ravines of the Rocky Mountain Colorado Columbine and Aspen Bluehills and can grow up to three feet tall.

In North America, there are 12 species of Ligusticum. Among these, L. porteri is known as "true" osha.

Also Known As

  • Bear root
  • Chuchupate
  • Colorado cough root
  • Indian parsley
  • Perejil de Campo
  • Racine d'Ours
  • Wild celery root
  • Mountain lovage

Health Benefits

For centuries, osha was used by North American indigenous groups in a variety of ways, including as a ceremonial drug, incense, food, and medicine.

In Mexico, the Tarahumara tribe used L. porteri during ritual curing ceremonies for protecting people from witches and rattlesnakes. The Zuni people in the Southwest United States would chew on the root during healing rituals.

In traditional medicine, Native American and Hispanic cultures have used osha to treat medical conditions such as colds, coughs, sore throat, skin wounds, fever, gastrointestinal problems, and circulation and heart issues.

Today, some people believe osha root can help treat medical conditions including:

These health claims have not been proven in studies.

Health purveyors and supplement manufacturers often make claims that osha root extract can help people with asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory illness. These claims should be followed by disclaimers saying the information is not meant to replace the expertise of a healthcare professional.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned multiple osha suppliers and distributors about making medical claims, stating that making claims about cures or other medical benefits qualifies osha as a "unapproved drug."

Researchers are examining the composition of osha and how it might provide health benefits, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. To date, there is no research that proves osha can heal specific health conditions.

Oxidative Stress

Some studies have looked at the root’s protective effect on oxidative stress, which is caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants and can result in illness and disease.

In a 2016 study, researchers extracted human peripheral lymphocytes (a form of a white blood cell) and incubated them with different concentrations of osha root extract. They measured the protective effect of osha against oxidative damage by inducing oxidative stress.

They found that at the highest doses, 400 micrograms per meter (μg/m), osha might be a potential immune-modulating agent, perhaps providing protective effects against oxidative damage.

The following year, the researchers tested osha root extract on human promyelocytic leukemia cells to see its effects on oxidative stress and inflammation.

They incubated the leukemia cells with different concentrations of osha root and found that while the extract didn't reduce or treat the leukemia cells, it did have a protective effect against oxidative stress and inflammation.

These studies did not include human trials, which are needed to determine dosages and safety of ingestion, among other things.

While oxidative stress can play a role in certain diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, more studies are needed to determine whether osha root would be beneficial for any of these conditions.

Infections

Osha root is sometimes used to prevent infections because it’s thought to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. It has been applied directly to wounds to prevent infections and help with healing.

While some studies have found that extracts of osha root can inhibit bacteria, more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness in this regard.

Osha root has also been used in the treatment of viral infections, including HIV/AIDS, due to its suspected antiviral properties. However, there is limited evidence to support this use.

Possible Side Effects

It's unsafe to consume osha when you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Ingesting osha may start menstruation in pregnant women, which could cause miscarriage.

Effects during breastfeeding are unknown, so it's recommended that you avoid osha completely.

Taken in large doses over an extended period, osha of time may lead to kidney or liver toxicity. Some manufacturers’ labels say you shouldn’t use osha if you have impaired or inflamed kidneys.

You should consult with your pharmacist or physician before using this product, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or are taking other medications.

Preparation and Dosage

Osha must be prepared carefully. The root can be confused with poisonous plant hemlock, which is fatal if ingested.

Osha and hemlock can often be differentiated by examining their roots. In most cases, poison hemlock roots are smooth and purplish without leaf base remnants, though those features are inconsistent.

Roots from water hemlock are thought to be purplish, fibrous, and have a soft texture and parsnip scent. Ligusticums, including osha, have root crowns with basal leaves and have a celery-like odor.

Because osha can be difficult to determine from poison and water hemlock, it may be safer to buy from a reputable seller rather than to pick or gather it on your own.

Osha is sold in a variety of forms, including whole roots, dried, or fresh. It comes in root tincture, a liquid herbal extract, and capsules containing root powder. Additionally, it can be found in multi-ingredient products such as tea and syrup.

It's hard to determine an appropriate dose since there's no scientific data to support specific ranges for specific uses. Several factors, such as age and health, should be taken into consideration when determining doses.

Some manufacturers and distributors recommend doses dependent upon the use. For example, they may suggest a different amount of osha for an infection versus a digestive issue.

What to Look For

Since this herbal supplement (like all others) is not regulated by the FDA, it's important to purchase it from a reputable source. If possible, the supplement should be certified by a trusted third party, such as:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia
  • NSF International
  • ConsumerLab.

These types of organizations help ensure supplement safety through independent testing and evaluation. In addition, they have the ability to determine whether or not supplements contain unacceptable levels of contaminants.

Make sure that the label does not make false claims. For example, labels should not claim that osha can treat, alleviate symptoms of, or cure a disease. Remember that no such claims have been validated by the FDA.

Any claims should be followed by a disclaimer noting the supplement's inability to cure, treat, or alleviate symptoms, as well as the importance of checking with a healthcare provider before use.

Check Ingredient Lists

One major problem with commercial osha is misidentification of species. Some suppliers, manufactures, and herbalists don't differentiate between species of Ligusticum and call it all osha. L. porteri is known as "true" osha and should be the primary ingredient in your supplement.

A Word From Verywell

While researchers have found that osha root extract may have some antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, more human studies are needed to test the safety of dosing as well as the effectiveness of such claims. Be sure to discuss osha use with your doctor.

As you weigh the decision, you may also want to consider that the popularity of osha has led to over-harvesting of the wild plant. As a result, conservationists have designated it as endangered.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Park Service. Southern Ligusticum.

  2. American Botanical Council. The Genus Ligusticum in North America: An Ethnobotanical Review with Special Emphasis Upon Species Commercially Known as “Osha.HerbalGram. 2010.

  3. Nguyen K, Sparks J, Omoruyi F. Investigation of the cytotoxicity, antioxidative and immune-modulatory effects of Ligusticum porteri (Osha) root extract on human peripheral blood lymphocytesJ Integr Med. 2016;14(6):465-472. doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(16)60280-7

  4. Nguyen K, Sparks J, Omoruyi F. Effects of (Osha) Root Extract on Human Promyelocytic Leukemia Cells. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017;9(2):156-160. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.204641