Osha – Bear Root Medicine



3/16/20 – My personal experience with this herb was problematic – I stopped using it because it gave me an uncomfortable “buzz”. This is not to say that Osha doesn’t work for others; it may be that my body is too sensitive – I have a history of needing to use care around medicinal use of any kind. Because there has been so much activity around this post lately I want to include this caveat. Herbs are medicines and each person may have a different reaction – Please use care and pay close attention to your body’s responses when taking any herb.


Osha is an herb that belongs to the parsley family. It is found in Northern New Mexico and other areas of the Rocky mountains at elevations of 7500 – 10,000 feet in wet moist areas with rich organic soil. However, unlike it’s poisonous cousin Water Hemlock it is never found with it’s feet growing in water because it has a reciprocal relationship with mycorrhizel fungi that also makes Osha impossible to cultivate.


The herb has been used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years to treat respiratory and digestive issues when taken internally, and topically as a skin cream to moisten dry skin and heal surface wounds. The seeds and leaves were also ingested as natural food. The root of the herb was/is chewed for endurance, respiratory, problems and to combat altitude sickness.


The root of the herb is prepared by simmering it for up to three hours resulting in a dark aromatic tea. The root can also be tinctured in alcohol and has a spicy aromatic pungent taste.


Osha is an indigenous name for bear. Indigenous mythology tells us that Native and Hispanic peoples first learned to use the herb from the bears that lived in the Rocky Mountains. Since both Grizzly bears and black bears once inhabited these areas both used the herb when they emerged from hibernation to cleanse their sluggish digestive systems early in the spring, just as black bears do today (grizzlies were extirpated in most western states by the last century). During this period bears ingest many kinds of new greens, usually the only natural foods available besides roots and corms. During the warmer seasons both grizzlies and black bears have been observed (by both naturalists and biologists) rolling in Osha to kill parasites and soothe insect bites as well as chewing the roots when feeling ill.


All through the Americas the bear is still considered by Indigenous peoples to be the greatest healer of all animals with the black bear believed to be the greater “root” healer while the grizzly is invoked as the greatest source of spiritual protection.


Although western medicine has been slow to acknowledge the healing power of natural herbs, it reluctantly acknowledges that the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties of Osha “may” inhibit colds, flu, and other viral infections. It is probably the most widely used herb in the Southwest.


Bear root is seriously threatened by over – harvesting and cannot be successfully cultivated, so it is imperative to wild-craft responsibly. Osha has parsley –like leaves and umbels of white flowers. The root crowns have a reddish tint. The roots when dug are fibrous with dark wrinkled skin and the scent is similar to that of celery.


Osha is an herb with no known side effects; however because it contains oxytocin it should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers.


I have been gathering my own herbs for 50 years and making tinctures/decoctions/salves out of the ones I grow on my own land or wild-craft in Maine. I do not normally procure herbal preparations from commercial dealers, preferring to use what is available in my own backyard. Now, however, that I am living in New Mexico I hope to find some Osha in a place where I can gather some roots without damaging whole clumps of these plants.


Because I am a black bear researcher and have observed many bears ingesting herbs in the spring I have a particular fascination of the multiple uses of Osha, and have just begun using an extract prepared by others. The bear in me just has to find out how this herb works for me!

Women with Wings




(magpie visiting at dawn)


What does it mean when the Black Birds Come?


First it was the magpie

Black and White

shivering iridescent

feathers flashing

in every conceivable hue –

warning about extremes.


Next the raven took up

residence in in the upper crown

of the Russian Olive

outside my window

quorking his threat

hoarsely at dawn.


But when the red – wings arrived

in outrageous numbers

flocking to the ground

a hundred or so at a time

I imagined I heard a Red Bird’s song

rising from the sea…


A river of birds around

and over my head cry out

that Nature is always listening

appearing in times of calamitous need

supporting by Presence

a tangible truth

in the midst of

alcoholic delusion.


The Great Goddess

comes to life through

trees and birds –

thriving on the edges

of disaster –

offering Comfort

when there is none.


Women with Wings

are ancient female spirits

appearing in the guise

of birds whose Love


when Fire threatens

to annihilate

just as Gimbutas intuitively





Working notes:


This morning I read Carol Christ’s most recent article on scholar and archeologist Marija Gimbutas whose work has informed my writing for the last thirty years ( Carol P. Christ feminismandreligion.com).


Understanding intuitively that Marija spoke truths no one else had dared to utter, I read, wrote, sculpted and listened to Nature with secret relief having finally found a context in which I could find comfort and a reason to go on…


Instead of paraphrasing I will quote Christ’s words directly because this woman is a scholar perhaps equal only to Gimbutas herself.

Responding to the backlash against her theories, Gimbutas is said to have told a female colleague that it might take decades, but eventually the value of her work would be recognized. It is now more than twenty years since Marija Gimbutas died in 1994, and the value of her work is beginning to be recognized by (at least some of) her colleagues—including one of her harshest critics. In a lecture titled “Marija Rediviva: DNA and Indo-European Origins,” renowned archaeologist Lord Colin Renfrew (allied with the British Conservative Party**), who had been one of Gimbutas’s most vociferous antagonists and a powerful gate-keeper, concluded the inaugural Marija Gimbutas Lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago with these words: “Marija [Gimbutas]’s Kurgan hypothesis has been magnificently vindicated.”

In the lecture, Colin* explains Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis about the spread of Indo-European languages from the steppes north of the Black Sea by invaders she called “Kurgans,” from a word of Slavic origin which refers to their characteristic burial mounds. Gimbutas spoke of these as “big man” graves, arguing that they marked the appearance of a new cultural group into Europe—one that was patriarchal, patrilineal, and warlike. Before their arrival, the people Gimbutas called “Old Europeans” buried their dead in communal graves, with grave offerings indicating no great difference in wealth or status and no domination of one sex over the other. Gimbutas argued that the “Kurgan” people introduced Indo-European languages into the lands they conquered, as well as new cultural systems based on domination of warriors and kings over the general populace and the domination of men over women. She stated that the Kurgan invasions of Europe began about 4400 BCE and lasted for several millennia.

Colin* dismissed the Kurgan theory, advancing his alternative hypothesis that Indo-European languages were introduced into Europe through the spread of agriculture from the Middle East after 7000 BCE. While Gimbutas spoke of a “clash of cultures” between the peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal cultures of Old Europe and the new culture of the Kurgan warriors, Colin* preferred the theory that cultures change through processes of internal evolution, rather than by violent overthrow.

In his lecture, Colin* discussed the different theories about the diffusion of the Indo-European languages across most of Europe and large parts of the Middle East and South Asia. He cited new evidence based on analysis of DNA in ancient bones that has been published in the last several years, acknowledging that this evidence definitively proves that a group called the “Yamnaya” people entered Europe in large numbers from their homeland north of the Black Sea. Colin* stated that he believed this evidence to be scientifically valid and thus to have proved Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis. Stating that little work had been done on DNA of ancient bones from the area of modern Turkey he postulated as the Indo-Eurpoean homeland, he said that his hypothesis had not been disproved and held out the hope that it too might be proved to be correct. (Most scholars consider this unlikely.)

It is important to note that when Colin* said that Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis has been proved, he was saying only that there is now convincing DNA evidence to uphold her idea that a new population element most likely speaking an Indo-European language entered into Europe at the times she postulated. He did not evaluate or endorse Gimbutas’s theory of a “clash of cultures” between peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal cultures of Old Europe and invading nomadic, warlike, patriarchal cultures of the Indo-Europeans. Nonetheless, in declaring Marija Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis “magnificently vindicated,” Lord Colin Renfrew, considered by many to be “the grand old man” of his field, opened the floodgates. He implicitly gave permission to other scholars to reconsider all of Gimbutas’s theories and perhaps eventually to restore her to her rightful place as one of the most–if not the most–creative, scientific, ground-breaking archaeologists of the twentieth century, “the grand old lady” of her field.”

 The Women with Wings are hidden

among the boughs of the trees that love them,

biding their time until Her Collective Voice rises out of the ashes of a civilization crumbling in collapse.

Tree of Life



Every culture sanctifies trees. Some are believed to have spirits that live within their roots, trunks, and branches. Sometimes the god of vegetation is a tree – often a pine as in Greek Mythology. Although many different trees symbolize the Tree of Life in different cultures all symbolize the interconnection between the two worlds, that of the mundane and the sacred. With its roots in the earth, its trunks extending upward and its branches reaching to the sky the worlds become one. Perhaps most important the tree is the symbol of “everlasting” Life, not in the Christian sense but in the sense that life is always in a state of renewal. No wonder trees are holy. (My twenty six year old dove, Lily b, sings out as I write the above words at 2 AM in the morning reaffirming this truth. We have a telepathic connection that extends back to when I first got him and realized this bird could read my mind).


Trees converse with those who listen to them. There is one Yaqui myth that tells the story of the People coming upon a tree whose vibrations made a sound that no one could understand. An old wise woman lived deep within the forest and she sent her daughter to listen to what the tree was saying. The tree told her that Christians were coming with a new religion. The people were distressed and some left to dwell underground taking the old ways with them into the earth where the roots of the trees could keep them safe. The People who remained became the Yaqui. Native peoples of this land hold the tree as sacred, and here in Northern New Mexico boughs are used as part of the regalia by the Pueblo people during the winter dances to symbolize the powers of Nature and the  sanctity of the Forest.


Every year a tree, usually an evergreen “calls” out to me capturing my attention involuntarily, without words through some kind of vibration or sense. Yesterday, this happened in a greenhouse with Pinus nigra, the black pine. This evergreen is native to Austria and Northern Italy (my Italian roots may have called me to her) and it was brought to this country in the mid 1700’s and as I discovered later, it is one of the best trees to grow in the high desert! I knew nothing about the tree initially, but the second I saw it I knew it was the one.


This tree will be the first to be planted here at Casita del Oso, or the House of the Bear, when the casita is finished. Meanwhile, she has also become my tree of life for this year. Shaped like a pyramid, thick with dense long needles she stands about three feet high and this morning I festooned her with red, yellow, orange peppers and a few pine cones. Birds flocked around her and a few landed on her conical cap. Since birds and trees have a special reciprocal relationship, I have no doubt that my avian friends are welcoming her too. I covered her tender roots with juniper boughs and tomorrow friend Iren will give me some hay to protect her over the winter until I can finally put her in the ground in early spring.

Tonight she was welcomed with a farolito or luminary lit in her honor. Farolitos are used during  Northern New Mexican Feast days and are a tradition. They are sometimes called luminaries. Around the Winter Solstice/Christmas people put them outdoors to welcome the benign spirits/or Mary and Joseph into their homes for repose. When I filled a small paper bag with dirt and placed a candle inside it felt just right. When darkness descended on the river valley last night, a soft glow emanated from beneath the tree. I hope that the Presence of my little pine will bring peace and blessings as well as protection for myself and for others, as so many Indigenous people believe.




the conversation

is animated –

full of light.



trees, fungus,

grasses,  illuminate

the darkest winter soul.



sweet scented humus

hums new beginnings,

offers hope to the weary.



a multitude of voices

mycelium, detritus, and rootlets

commune without sound.



seeds of pinion pine, juniper,

and cottonwood slumber

in comfort and silence.



Love is a peaceful wave

moving up through

ancient star clusters

over her head.



the Earth witnesses

a month without sleep

pulsing a dire warning:

You must find a way to Rest.



the angel of death emerges

from the anguished body

of her dreams.

Her plants and trees are dying –

and she weeps.

“Keep Out”



Rusty barbed wire

blocks my way

to Owl canyon

the place where

owls pray.


When I saw strings of

dirty spiked metal

stretched pole to pole

my heart sank.


We had only one day

to visit with the owls

in their sandstone castle

before being turned away.


Now cattle can graze

behind bars

in the desert scrub

to put hunks

of bloody red meat

on the table –

fattened by Monsanto’s


and god knows what else.


Poisoned from birth

the death of “animal soul”

is present in vacant,

world weary eyes.


Held hostage by humans

like the walking dead

do the animals still weep?


What we know is that

hormones and pesticides

will be consumed

with great gusto

on the coming Feast days.


Can’t anyone see that

Poisoned flesh

like the infamous apple of lore

is rotten to the core?


Will no one mourn the

death of these animals

who have become sacrifices

for human consumption?

The Owl Place



It was a beautiful black night peppered by only the brightest stars when I went outdoors to take a picture of the mysterious pearl white orb whose mystery still binds me to her and all women with wings – those women I love, the mother I lost, and of course, all birds.

The deep ‘whooing’ of the Great Horned owls began shortly afterwards just as I got into bed and continued for about fifteen minutes while I reflected upon the remarkable day…

“Who whooo who who,” the harmonious conversation between the two owls filled my heart to overflowing.

Nature was offering me yet another gift on this night of December’s cold, frost, snow, or winter full moon according to various Indigenous traditions.

The day before, my kindred spirit, (Iren’s words) had suggested this canyon as a safe place to walk my two little dogs. My trust in this woman runs deep and so we set out yesterday on a mild December afternoon following a sandy arroyo back into the hills. The serpentine rock strewn path eventually led to a roughly textured column of immense curtained sandstone structures, a couple with deep hollows carved and sculptured by the wind.

Climbing inside the one I could reach to investigate, I immediately noticed a couple of crumbling owl pellets realizing that I must have accidentally stumbled on an owl’s roost, and probable nesting place although it was impossible to see where the structure might be located behind the undulating sandstone curtains.

Excitedly I began to examine the pellets. By the size of the skulls, jaw bone, leg bones and other fragments I reached the conclusion that this must be a Great Horned Owl’s place of residence. Delighted by the find, it was a moment before I saw the distinctive horizontal barred feather resting in the rubble.

I was overcome by joy. Discovery is a magical process and this experience occurring on the afternoon of the eve of the Full Moon felt like a precious gift. I carefully picked up the feather, and a few bone fragments to bring home with me giving the place two names “Owl Canyon” and the “Owl’s Place” feeling ever so grateful that I could visit here again and again, should I chose.

As often is the case here in Abiquiu, I felt like I was walking on hallowed ground. Some of this sensing/feeling comes from being able to disappear into wilderness in minutes with deep silence, the footprints of wild cats, coyotes, and the occasional soaring raven my only companions.

Except for the owls who are hidden from sight…Owls who understand that Silence is a Gift.

I am truly only at peace in the wild.

Last night I fell asleep thinking about owls, how some had moved into my woods in Maine just this fall and how it seemed to me that they had followed me here to the high desert…

Just before dawn this morning when I walked my dogs I was startled to hear an ongoing call made by a solitary Great Horned owl, surely the most ancient image (and almost always maligned) of a “woman with wings.” I looked over the stark ridges of the reptilian mountains to the Owl’s Place and silently wished the owl good morning as my body was flooded by the comfort that only deep communion can bring.

Because we are all interconnected I am positive that an ancient multitude of women with wings from every continent keeps watch over us all.