Last week we woke to find our trash can knocked over and trash everywhere—no real harm done except for the mess. We did have the lid secured with a bungee cord but it was ripped off. Dang bears! 

At the end of summer, bears become more active. They’re on the hunt for food and water and during the fall, they apparently eat and drink nearly nonstop. Seriously, I’m sure there are better tasting small critters, berries, and insects to eat. Hopefully, it didn’t find anything tasty in the trash and won’t be back. And, it didn’t climb up on the porch and peek in the window. At least I hope not! And, I haven’t yet seen the bear roaming around in the daytime, which is fine by me. 

The bear got me wondering if there was any other meaning in the bear visit, cause you know I’m trying to listen to the language of symbols. And what popped into my head was, ah yes, Bear Medicine. 

In Native American herbalism, bear is an important animal. It digs up roots, tears off bark, and collects berries. By watching the bear’s behavior, they learned about plants for food and medicine. 


The bear is the totem animal for the healer and Native American healers had a preference for root and bark medicine because that was how the bears used the plants. 

Photo by Jack Charles on Unsplash


Many of the roots and barks we use as modern herbalists come from the Native Americans. Things like Goldenseal, Blue and Black Cohosh, Sweet Cicely, Wild Ginger, and Echinacea.  

The bear represents the idea of taking care of people. Just like a mother bear guards her cubs, full-on Bear Medicine. 

The people would watch the bears in Spring to see what they ate when they came out of hibernation to activate digestion and metabolism.

Osha Root, Arrowleaf Balsam Root, and Lomatium are the plants they went for first and so those herbs are called Bear Medicine.

Each of these plants has parts that look like furry brown paws. They contain resins that stimulate fats and oils, stimulate circulation, and get rid of mucus. In general, Bear Medicine works on the lungs, heart, liver, and the metabolism of the body.


Last fall I had the opportunity to dig all three to make my own Bear Medicines. These plants are all staples throughout the winter months and into spring. 

Osha Root (Ligusticum porteri), was one of the first plants I connected with as a young herbalist in Colorado. I’d dug some roots and made a tincture but I had some roots left over. I put them in a little bottle that I never used for anything. Every once in a while, I would take off the lid and take a whiff of the amazing Osha smell. The smell comes from its strong volatile oils. I suppose I could have made a tincture with that little bit of roots but I loved just having the roots around. After many years, I finally decided to part with them. I made them into a strong decoction to pour over the hot rocks in a winter solstice sauna celebration. It was beautiful medicine for the body and soul. 


My personal experience with Oshá is using it as a tincture for respiratory and bronchial infections and general immune support when I’m feeling a cold coming on or when I have a cold. I love to use this powerful plant to kick the immune system up a notch.  

Traditionally Osha roots were chewed to increase endurance – which has since been attributed to its support of the respiratory system. Native American parents even used to wrap Osha roots with leaves and strings and place them near newborn babies to cleanse the air they breathed. 

Osha can also be taken when traveling to higher altitudes or for long-distance hiking to promote easy breathing.

Honey infused with Oshá root makes a fabulous cough syrup and a delicious addition to herbal teas. 

Osha root is anti-microbial which means it contains anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It supports health or healing for respiratory conditions like coughs, colds, tonsillitis, flu, and other types of viral infections. 

Last year I was having the worst time with a cough and a fellow herbalist sent me some Osha leaves to use for tea. The taste is definitely mild celery, no surprise there since it’s a member of the parsley family, but surprisingly good. 

The root is a ‘bear’ to dig, pun intended.


Last year it took a whole group of us at least an hour or more to dig a root. It was dry and rocky terrain. For that reason I’m very judicious with the little bit of tincture I have. 

What we didn’t tincture we shared with another group who had harvested Sweet Ciciley Roots and made a Sweet Cicely Osha Root cough syrup that is delicious.

If you are interested in purchasing some Osha Root just know it’s not available as a cultivated crop. It hasn’t yet been grown outside of its native mountain habitat as far as I know. The seeds are difficult to germinate and it likes to grow in higher altitudes. 

The only way to get Osha is to wild-harvest it. Make sure you buy it from an ethical source because over-harvesting can threaten the long-term sustainability of this plant.

You can find it at Mountain Rose Herbs.

%d bloggers like this: