Ligusticum Grayi

Common Names

Oshala, Gray’s Lovage, Osha (mistakenly). Ligustikon is name of some ancient Greek Umbelliferae.


Native perennial with aromatic taproots; 2-6 dm tall, no spots on stem; leaves mostly basal, dissected, compound, and either ternate (3’s) or ternate-pinnate; flowers white to pink in compound umbels, no involucre, occasionally a few involucels; fruits

laterally flattened, oblong to ovate, glabrous (no hair), and prominently ribbed to slightly winged, stylopodium present.

This plant is virtually impossible to key out in Gilkey’s Handbook
of Northwestern Plants
. She says the flowers of this plant are purple, and calls it Purple Lovage. I have never seen one purple flower after checking tens of thousands of these plants. Gilkey uses flower color as a keying characteristic.

Oshala, Ligusticum grayi, can be confused with Poison Hemlock,
Conium maculatum, relatively easily because of their similar fruits and general stature. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, has a spotted
and a mousy odor in its roots. It is a weedy plant that grows at low elevations in disturbed soils. Oshala, Ligusticum grayi, is a mid-elevation native with a distinctive odor and no spots on its stems. Although these plants grow in different elevations and habitats, it is essential for a safe wildcrafter to distinguish the two.

The highly poisonous Water Hemlock, Cicuta douglasii, is of real concern when harvesting Oshala, Ligusticum grayi. Water Hemlock,
Cicuta douglasii, has a distinctly different fruit, root smell, and to a discerning eye, leaf shape. It generally grows at low elevations in aquatic or semi-aquatic ecosystems. Even though Oshala, Ligusticum
, grows in drier meadows at mid-elevations upward, I have observed both of these plants growing close together with a number of other mixed umbelliferaes in wet meadows on the border of low and mid-elevations. Always harvest umbelliferaes when identifiable in seed, and don’t harvest plants near the highly toxic Water Hemlock,
Cicuta douglasii. Every wildcrafter who harvests umbelliferaes must know Water Hemlock, Cicuta douglasii, very well.


Moist to dry, open to wooded, mountain slopes and drier meadows from mid-elevation upward to sub-alpine systems, This species grows in the Cascades and the Sierras, east to central Idaho and northeast Nevada. Blooms from July to September.

Associated Plants

At mid-elevations: False Hellebore, Veratrum
; Valerian, Valeriana sitchensis; Senecio triangularis.

Tending the Stand

Although this plant is a perennial, pick only a portion of the stand. Re-seed when the fruiting stem falls off during harvesting.


Oshala, Ligusticum grayi, can be found growing in large healthy stands in sub-alpine ecosystems. Most of the sub-alpine systems are protected as wilderness and are off limits to harvesting. Should you come across the rare, unprotected patch of sub-alpine plants, please do not harvest them! Sub-alpine systems are fragile and recover slowly from damage. Most of our &ldqou;protected” sub-alpine systems are in danger from overuse by campers.

In mid-elevation meadows, large stands of this plant can be found and harvested with minimal impact on the ecosystem. When you find one of these stands, look around. Nearby you will almost always come upon a burned, clear-cut, or recovering forest. Oshala, Ligusticum grayi, and Valerian, Valeriana sitchensis5, return within a few years after a disturbance. The grasses, sedges, and other meadow plants like the poisonous Monkshood, Aconitum sp., take a bit longer to re-establish themselves. In these areas there will be fewer competing plants in the soil, and harvesting will be easier. You can harvest Valerian, Valeriana sitchensis5, at the same time, often in the same clump.

Harvest the root with a shovel in the fall, when the plants are identifiable. The size of the roots are not necessarily related to the size of the above-ground portions. Trust your intuition. Dig a clump of sod that includes the plant. It’s long taproot will be sticking out the bottom of the clump. With care, it may be possible to gently loosen the root and pull the plant down through the sod. If not, you can break the clump into a few pieces to remove the root. The clump can then be replaced in the ground the way it came out, and the remaining plants in the clump will continue to grow.

Keep only roots that have identifiable seeds attached. During washing, you can double check each root. Do not use smell alone for identification. Although this root’s smell is unique, other roots in the clump can pick it up.


Wash roots thoroughly but quickly in cold water. While washing these roots on the banks of a river in the sunlight, we’ve often seen the volatile oils (and the potency) floating away from the roots on the surface of the water. I consider the fresh root almost edible as a food, and the fresh tincture is highly prized. The roots can also be dried for later use. As some of the constituents are only partially water soluble, it is best chewed, encapsulated, or tinctured. Native Americans peel their roots, but this is not mandatory.

The leaves are best eaten fresh, but they can be dried for later use. The seeds can be used fresh or dry.


Oshala Root, Ligusticum grayi, is the finest remedy in our area (that the Pacific Northwest of the United States) for sore throats from colds, coughing, dusty country fairs, and too much singing or howling at the moon, I believe it rivals Echinacea Root, Echinacea sp., for this purpose. Take a few droppers of tincture followed by some water, or chew a small piece of the root as often as necessary. The root is a very warming herb that increases circulation and promotes sweating. This makes it a diaphoretic, useful in the beginning stages of colds and flus. Upper respiratory congestion can also be helped by this plant. Add these uses together with anti-bacterial and possibly anti-viral properties, and this herb becomes an excellent treatment for general infections. Take the basic dosage (3 droppers of tincture 3x a day) and adjust as necessary for the “creeping crud” or flu.

The aromatic and bitter qualities of this root make it useful for mild indigestion, flatulence, or the stomach irritability occasionally associated with colds and flus. Oshala, Ligusticum grayi, and true Osha, Ligusticum porteri, are emmenagogues, and will bring on menstruation, This herb is not for pregnant women. I recently met a young woman who had been introduced to true Osha, Ligusticum porteri, as a beneficial and sacred herb. She had been chewing large amounts of the dried root every day. I cautioned that it could bring on periods. She said, “Maybe that’s why I’ve been bleeding for the last fourteen days!” Remember, the difference between medicine and poison is dosage.

Native American cultures in the Northwest and the Rockies each use their own Ligusticums in similar ways. They peel their roots and chew them medicinally. These roots are also burned as incense for purification (smudging), ground and smoked with other herbs for a menthol-like flavor, and carried around in medicine bags. Ligusticums are considered powerful, sacred herbs.

The leaves of Oshala, Ligusticum grayi are edible and taste like mild Parsley. The seeds make a pleasant spice or a pleasure tea. Like the root, these aromatic seeds can be useful medicinally in the form of tea or tincture for stomach irritability.

Related Plants

A larger plant, Ligusticum apiifolium, grows in the valleys at low elevations. Be careful of Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, when harvesting this plant. The Indians of northern Washington use Ligusticum canbyi. True Osha, Ligusticum porteri, grows in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. It is much larger and more potent than the other related Ligusticums. All these Ligusticums have winged fruits. All should be useful medicinally, although differing in strength. True Lovage, Levisticum officinale was originally named Ligusticum levisticum. The Chinese plant Ligusticum wallachii is used for lowering blood pressure, inducing uterine contractions, and slowing postpartal bleeding, according to Michael Moore.

These class notes were written by Howie Brounstein @1993. You are welcome to reprint them as long as this paragraph is included. Feel free to send comments to Columbines and Wizardry Herbs, Inc. PO Box 50532, Eugene, OR 97759, USA. All the color medicinal plant photos are linked from Southwest School of Botanical Medicine’s enormous archive of North American medicinal plants. Sometime these links will lead to a plant that is a different species but similar to what you might find with Ligusticum grayi. Last update December, 1996.

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