Yerba Buena and Osha
The days are getting shorter and the nights colder. Autumn is here and winter just around the corner. The changing weather can bring with it sniffles and sneezes, so here are a couple of plants to help you through and hopefully help prevent any full-fledged colds.
Yerba Buena (Mentha spicata), translates into “good herb” in English, though its English name is mint. There are many different varieties of mint, but left to grow among each other for long enough, the plants can easily become the same. Because of this, Yerba Buena is a name that can encompass any variation of the mint family, though Spearmint and Peppermint are the most common.
The plant originated in Europe and Asia, brought in by settlers. The rounded, wrinkly leaves grow in sets of two along the square stems. The distinctive mint smell is probably the best indicator to identify the plant. Light purple flowers appear atop the plants in late summer and should be snipped off before they go to seed. Yerba Buena likes shade and moist soil. Once established, it flourishes and spreads as long as it has adequate water, which is why it can sometimes be found along riverbanks or ditches. Planting from seed is difficult. Transplanting or taking a cutting are the best methods of getting a plant.
Yerba Buena is so gentile to the stomach, even very sick people can drink the tea without trouble. It is excellent for stomach aches and colds. The pleasant smell and taste make it an easy medicine to take. Combined with local honey, Yerba Buena can help with allergies as well. Slowly sipping the tea while smelling it is very soothing, no matter one’s condition or ailment.
While Yerba Buena is a wonderful plant, it is not actually the cure-all that some tradition and folk lore would make it out to be; very soothing, yes, but not very medicinal beyond that. However, there is a plant with a reputation that’s been laboratory proven to be as good as great-grandma always said.
Osha (Ligusticum porteri) truly feels like a magic plant. Part of the parsley family, the dark brown, gnarled roots are usually the main part of the plant to be used. They are lumpy, wrinkled, and tend to have a section on the top that looks as if it is covered in wiry brown hair. The plant only grows in the southern Rocky Mountains under certain soil conditions. Attempts to cultivate it elsewhere have failed, and even attempts to purposely grow it under the right conditions have been mostly unsuccessful.
The plants have long been used by Native Americans for many medicinal purposes. They discovered the health benefits of the plant by watching bears. After hibernation, bears will eat osha, assumedly to help the digestive system. This is where the plant gets one of its alternate names, “bear root.”
Osha has been laboratory tested to be antiviral and antibacterial. It often induces sweating, which can help to detoxify the body. The root has a numbing effect, so it can be boiled into a topical anesthetic for cuts and scraps. By steeping osha in vodka for a month, one can produce a (rather strong smelling) liniment for sore muscles.
When used to treat toothaches and sore throats, a walnut size piece of the dried root is usually chewed like gum and then discarded once the juices have been ingested. Fresh roots are often too potent and chewing it may cause blistering in the mouth and nose, so the roots have to be well dried first and used in small amounts.
Another option is to boil the osha to make tea. This can help with flu, colds, other upper respiratory problems, fevers, upset stomach and menstrual cramps. Often people use it as a preventative measure to fight off colds before they really start and to avoid allergy-induced secondary infections.
As with anything medicinal, osha isn’t meant to be taken for an extended period of time. Pregnant women or nursing mothers shouldn’t use osha. It is recommended that osha only be ingested in small amounts, although not many people would actually have a desire to eat a lot of it as it tastes very bitter.
Some of the best remedies come in their natural form, not from a pill bottle. Preventative measures can do wonders to keep the whole family healthy throughout the coming winter and over the many winters to come.
Moore, Michael. “Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West.”