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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'at
u t ukapi. 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.
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
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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