Herbal KnowledgeFeb 2, 2022

Why We’re Finding Alternatives to Osha

Since 1979, our mission has been deeply rooted in supporting community and nature. When we say our purpose is to serve plants, people and planet, we mean it. That’s why we’re changing where and how we use the herb Osha (Ligusticum porteri).

Previously, we offered Osha as a single herb extract, and we included it in two popular formulas, Rapid Immune Boost™ and Lung Expectorant™. We are in the process of replacing Osha with Elecampane (Inula helenium) in Rapid Immune Boost, and we are looking at other reformulation options for Lung Expectorant. Our Osha single herb extract will still be available.

Why we chose to use less Osha

While we grow many of our own herbs right here on our Certified Organic farms in southern Oregon, Osha is not among them. This herb, related to Carrots and Parsley, is native to most of the Rocky Mountains, parts of the Southwest US and northern Mexico. It prefers subalpine meadows at elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet.

As such, Osha has both a limited growth range and limited availability. The harvest window is narrow — but demand is high, which has created sustainability issues and puts the herb’s long-term viability at risk. In fact, Osha is officially “At-Risk,” according to United Plant Savers. In the US, recreational vehicles and grazing are mostly to blame, while overharvesting is the cause in northern Mexico.

We can easily replenish some herbs if we need more during the year. But not Osha. If we run out, there’s no more supply left of this herb that meets our ethical and quality standards, and we must wait until the next year’s harvest to restock our supplies.

We began discussing our use of Osha as a company a few years ago. We source ours from reputable, trusted partners who wildcraft Osha for us on private property, with permission from the landowners. But Rapid Immune Boost is one of our best-selling products, which means we use more Osha. Lung Expectorant is also popular. We can’t simply buy more if we need it — the supply is finite and our standards are unwavering.

Starting in 2012, Kelly Kindscher, Ph.D., of the University of Kansas, conducted a multi-year sustainability study on Osha. Our sales of Osha were put on pause for awhile during this study, which was sponsored by the American Herbal Products Association’s Foundation for Education and Research on Botanicals. The results, completed in 2017, were promising. Osha can recover from harvesting. However, we decided to be pro-active and find alternative herbs for some products to further protect this indigenous plant and avoid straining the native populations. We will continue to offer Osha as a single herb extract, but we’ll replace it where we can. And, of course, we’ll use only Osha that is Responsibly Wildcrafted.

This isn’t the first time we’ve put plants first and decided to stop selling certain herbs. Decades ago, we removed American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) from our product line, and we decided to source only Certified Organic, cultivated Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) to protect wild populations.

Why we chose Elecampane

The shift from Osha to Elecampane doesn’t impact the quality or integrity of Rapid Immune Boost. Osha offers traditional support for the respiratory system — and so does Elecampane.*

But while Osha root must be wildcrafted, Elecampane can be grown organically. We’re fortunate that nature gives us multiple herbs that offer similar support.

We prepare Elecampane extract from the root of Inula helenium plants grown on our own Certified Organic farms. The root is harvested only in its second year of growth, carefully shade-dried, then thoroughly extracted.

With woolly leaves and beautiful yellow flowers that look like tiny Sunflowers, Elecampane is in the same family as Sunflower, the Asteraceae. This plant’s history is full of interesting stories. Its species name, helenium, is named for Helen of Troy, the fabled beauty of ancient Greece. It’s said that Elecampane plants sprung up everywhere her tears fell as she was abducted from Sparta.

In Switzerland and France, Elecampane is one of many herbs used to make absinthe, and it was sacred to the ancient Celts. Some call it Elfwort, as Elecampane was linked to the myth and lore of elves and fairies.

Elecampane is intensely aromatic and resinous with bitterness and acidity. This is compared with Osha’s sharp, intense aromatic quality resembling strong Celery. You may notice a slight difference in taste when Elecampane replaces Osha in Rapid Immune Boost, but you can always taste the strength and qualities of the herbs in our extracts. Both herbs are highly regarded by herbalists, and they’re aromatic, warming and resinous respiratory herbs.*