Osha Root is my cherished remedy during cold and flu season, for allergies and toothaches. Osha grows high in the mountains near my home in New Mexico. Osha has long been a traditional remedy for the peoples living here. Osha is also known as Bear Root because of the bears’ medicinal use of this plant. Bears eat Osha when they come out of hibernation to cleanse their digestive systems in preparation for springtime feasts. Bears are also known to chew on the root and rub the mashed plant and juices onto their fur.

To bring Osha into our lives, we must meet her where she lives in the mountains. She doesn’t grow well in farms, gardens, or pots on a shelf. When wild-harvesting Osha (and any other plant), respectfully ask permission and only remove the plants who are willing to come. If we over-harvest Osha, this plant too will become extinct. Osha has purposes and relationships in the web of life beyond the healing gifts being offered to us.

In addition to physical healing, my life has been touched by the Spirit of Osha. Among the diverse plants I share in ceremony and healings, Osha is the one to whom people are particularly drawn. Osha brings us the medicine of living wild and free. With respect for her own existence, Osha holds her ground with unwavering commitment. She is unwilling to be domesticated. Boldly claiming her wildness. Clear about her belonging. Rooting where she flourishes and thrives. Interwoven in intimate relationships all the while abundantly free. Whether we encounter Osha in her mountain homelands or in smudging ceremony or by chewing bits of the root or sipping warm tea, the physical medicines and the Spirit of Osha infuse us.

In a spirit journey many years ago, Osha instructed me that I needed to get to know her as a living plant. Up until that moment, it hadn’t even dawned on me that I only knew Osha as the dried pieces of root I bought from herbalists. So if I was wandering around in the mountains, I could easily walk by Osha without recognizing her. I would have no idea I was in the presence of my cherished friend and healing ally. The Spirit of Osha was requesting that I see her, that I understand more fully who she is. I asked Osha to show me her living self and I saw a leafy green plant, fern-like, feathery and light, with white blossoms. So very different, so much more to all of who she is, than a chunk of hardened root.

Osha had something to teach me about relationships. About remembering that even when there may be a particular aspect of someone’s existence that is familiar or named (e.g., the root of a plant, the job title of a person, a medical diagnosis), that the whole of the being needs to be remembered, held in my awareness, and seen.

This sacred plant from the mountains has shown me about relating Wholeness to Wholeness, Respect to Respect, Freedom to Freedom, Heart to Heart.

Bear Root has taught me about honoring the vital ecosystems, the essential nature of family, community and home, in which plants (and people and birds and fish and animals and insects and rivers) live.