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Native American Osha (Bear Root) Mythology

The osha plant is also known as "bear root" or "bear medicine," because Native Americans say they have observed bears eating osha when they are sick or weak from hibernation in order to renew their energy. Many names for this plant in Native American languages have this exact meaning, such as the Ute name kwiyag'atu tukapi. The origin of the name "osha" itself are obscure. Oshá is the name for the plant in the New Mexico dialect of Spanish. It may have been corrupted from a Pueblo Indian word, possibly the Zuni word Anshe, which means "bear." Osha is often also known as chuchupate or lovage, although both those names can be used to apply to more than one type of herb, causing some confusion-- "chuchupate" is just a Spanish corruption of a Nahuatl word for "bitter herb," and "lovage" is a medieval European word for any parsley-like plant.

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Osha root plays a number of roles in traditional Western and Southwestern Indian cultures: it is used as a medicinal herb, as a ceremonial incense, and as an element in a medicine pouch or bundle. Many tribes associate osha plants with protection, healing, and good luck. The Yuki tribe and some Paiute bands believed that the osha plant repelled rattlesnakes, and tucked pieces of osha root into their moccasins to guard against snakebite. (To the Yuki, osha was known as "snake root" rather than "bear root.")

Native American Legends About Osha Roots

Recommended Books of Osha Root Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Plants of Power: Native American Ceremony and the Use of Sacred Plants:
    Interesting book about the meaning of osha root and other native plants to traditional Native American spirituality.
Native Plant Stories:
    Excellent collection of Native American stories about plant spirits, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Native American Medicinal Plants:
    Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of herbs throughout Native North America.

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