Osha – Ligusticum porteri

Osha – Ligusticum porteri, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 48

Latin Name:

Ligusticum porteri

Common Name:

Osha, Bear root, Porter’s Lovage, Porter’s Licorice Root, Lovage, Chuchupate, Nipo, kwiyag’atu tukapi

Family:

Apiaceae (Parsley or Carrot Family)

Part(s) of Plant Used:

Root, leaf, seed

Geographic Region(s):

Osha can be found in much of the Rocky Mountains in the states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. It is also Found in the Northern portions of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Habitat:

Osha lives entirely in the Rocky Mountain subalpine zone, the mountainous area directly under tree line, from 1,000 to 3,500 meters (5,000 to 11,500 feet) above sea level. It requires moist, well drained soils, and grows in open meadows adjacent to, or in the understory below, aspen, fir, spruce, Douglas fir, and oak. Sagebrush is another common associate. Full sun to full shade.

Life History:

Slow growing perennial. Reproduces vegetatively by rhizomes (common) or by seed (seedlings rarely observed in the field). Seed germination requires significant cold, and in some cases moisture stratification.

Endangered/Threatened/Trade Status: 

Not listed as endangered or threatened by the USDA. There are no current state or federal laws in the U.S. regarding the conservation of Ligusticum porteri. This species has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List, nor has it been listed in the CITES flora appendices for endangered species.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance:

Initial studies indicate that L. porteri may be able to withstand lower levels of root harvest by hand tools, while maintaining stand integrity.  However, further study is necessary to evaluate the long term impacts of low level root harvest. To date, no studies have been done to assess the impact of leaf harvest, though informal accounts report minimal impacts on leaf growth in subsequent years post-harvest. Initial observation suggests that L. porteri does not respond well to soil compaction (recreational vehicle use, etc.). 

Vulnerabilities and Threats: 

While informal accounts of smaller osha populations (100 plants or less) disappearing from overharvest exist throughout its range, to date no formal governmental observation or status tracking of L. porteri has been conducted, making overall population decline difficult to document. As a high elevation species, L. porteri is likely threatened by climate change, in addition to overgrazing, injudicious timber harvesting practices, and recreational vehicle use on public lands. Due to the difficulty of cultivating this species, the vast majority of commercially available plant material must be wild harvested. Possible risks may exist from overharvest in certain populations.

Demand:

In their 2011-2017 Tonnage Survey of Select North American Wild-Harvested Plants, the American Herbal Products Association noted an average yearly demand of 1,765 pounds of Osha root across approximately 26 companies engaged in supplying raw plant material commercially. It should be noted that this report includes only information from companies willing to voluntarily share their harvesting data, and should therefore be seen as a low estimate of commercial demand and actual yearly harvest. Informal accounts from wild-crafters receiving requests for several tons of raw plant material indicate increasing interest in the L. porteri by commercial companies.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

L. porteri can be confused with other lookalike species, possibly causing unintentional harvest of non-target plants by inexperienced harvesters. L. porteri shares habitat with flora considered imperiled or vulnerable by the Global Natural Heritage ranking system or considered threatened or sensitive by the U.S. federal authorities. As such, study is needed to evaluate the potential impact on these species.

Lookalike(s):

As a member of the Apiaceae family, Ligusticum has the potential to be confused with many genera within this family at various life stages. That being said, it is most likely to be mistaken with plants that overlap its range, and that occur either side by side, or within the same ecotone. These are the lookalikes we have focused on here.

Pseudocymopterus montanus, Mountain Parsely

Conium maculatum, Poison Hemlock (TOXIC)

Ligusticum spp., especially L. dissecticum within the Rocky Mountain Range

Lomatium sp., Biscuit root (especially in young stages)

References:

  • American Herbal Products Association, Chittum, H., Johnson, H., & Fletcher, E. (2021, March). 2011 – 2017 Tonnage Survey of Select North American Wild-Harvested Plants. American Herbal Products Association. http://www.ahpa.org/AHPAResources/TonnageSurveys.aspx
  • Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee, Colorado Natural Areas Program, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, & Spackman et al. (2013). Colorado Rare Plant Guide. Colorado State University.
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. (n.d.). The CITES species | CITES. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://cites.org/eng/disc/species.php
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature. (n.d.). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.iucnredlist.org/
  • Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (http://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of Nnorth America Program (BONAP). (in press)].
  • Kindscher, K., Martin, L. M., & Long, Q. (2019). The Sustainable Harvest of Wild Populations of Oshá (Ligusticum porteri) in Southern Colorado for the Herbal Products Trade. Economic Botany, 73(3), 341–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-019-09456-1
  • Kindscher, K., Martin, L. M., Long, Q., Craft, R., Loring, H., Sharaf, M. H. M., & Yang, J. (2017). Harvesting and Recolonization of Wild Populations of Oshá (Ligusticum porteri) in Southern Colorado. Natural Areas Journal, 37(2), 178–187. https://doi.org/10.3375/043.037.0207
  • Panter, K. L., Ashley, R. E., Guernsey, K. M., & Johnson, C. M. (2004). Preliminary Studies on Propagation of Osha. HortTechnology, 14(1), 141–143. https://doi.org/10.21273/horttech.14.1.0141
  • Plants Profile for Ligusticum porteri (Porter’s licorice-root). (n.d.). USDA Plants Database. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=LIPO
  • Native American Languages, Osha Root Mythology. Retrieved 5/21/21 http://www.native-languages.org/legends-osha.htm

Additional Source(s) of Interest:

Medicinal use of Osha by Bear populations, Shawn Sigstedt, YouTube


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