One of the medicinal plants found on the San Juan National Forest is osha (Ligusticum porteri), a slow-growing, perennial member of the parsley family. Osha is found in the southern Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madre between 7,000 and 11,000 feet. Large roots, typically from plants at least 10 years old, are favored as an herbal remedy.
"Osha has many traditional uses," said Regi Black Elk of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota. "It is used for upper respiratory infections. You can chew the root for a sore throat, and it aids in treating colds."
Black Elk, a senior studying American Indian Studies at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, was high atop Missionary Ridge north of Durango last month helping collect data for a research project on the impacts of root harvest on osha populations.
"This work is hard but beneficial, especially if the Forest Service uses it to work with native tribes to save medicinal plants for future generations," said Black Elk as he climbed over downed logs searching for osha sprouts and seedlings to flag amid dense vegetation.