Sunday, November 01, 2015

Oshá: Local Ways

Weather: Temperatures flirted with freezing, then rains came after dark Thursday and lasted through the following morning.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias, áñil del muerto.

Local vegetable patches have been cleared, but the pepper plants have been left. More piñon was for sale this week by roadside; this must be a mast year.

What’s turning yellow: Leaves on cottonwoods, catalpas, Siberian elms, grapes, globe and sandbar willows.

What’s turning red or orange: Leaves on apricots, cherries, sandcherries, Virginia creeper.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches, chickadees.

The ground squirrel has climbed the peach tree and bitten off twigs on a low, horizontal branch. It might have been making room for itself, since it left the debris on the ground. It’s also possible it was after insects in the crack on the upper side of the branch, or had some other motive.

Weekly update: Leonora Curtin said Ligusticum porteri was called oshá and chuchupate in New Mexico in the 1940s, but believed the latter name was more common in the southern part of the state. Urban dwellers in Chihuahua still use the term.

At this time it’s hard to know if local Spanish speakers learned about the herb when they were still in México, adopted it from local groups, or transferred knowledge from some other plant known from Spain.

John Gerard said Angelica archangelica was used "against poison, and against the plague, and all infections taken by evil and corrupt air" in 1633 in England. He also recommended it for fevers caused by malaria, stomach pain, and "witchcraft and enchantments, if a man carry the same about them." In addition, it "cureth the biting of mad dogs, and all other venomous beasts."

Angelica is an umbrel like osha and may contain similar chemicals. The similarity in external form and prescription may have made Spanish colonists open to testing the unfamiliar oshá when they moved into the silver mining areas of Chihuahua.

In the 1940s people living in northern New Mexico were chewing oshá for stomach gas and using ground roots in water for stomach aches Those were the same uses recorded among the Tarahumara in 1777 when Falcón Mariano said, they extracted "a liquid used to treat stomach pains and flatulence."

Some Tarahumara bands were living near the Parral silver mines when settlers were recruited from there for the Reconquest in 1693. Jacob Krummeck, who sold the root in Santa Fé in the 1860s, was married to a woman from a ranching area in Chihuahua.

Carolyn Dodson and William Dunmire heard Hispanic ranchers tied sprigs of chuchupate to their boots to ward off rattlesnakes. Curtin heard sheepherders or pastors and their camperos carried bits of root in their pockets as protection against snakes and powdered it to spread around their bedrolls. Tarahumara still carry pieces of root to "ward off snakes and sorcerers." They may have borrowed that usage from the colonists.

Curtin did describe one oshá use that clearly was learned from the Apache, smoking the hollow stems. She probably meant the Jicarilla who began settling in northern New Mexico in the 1720s. They were first around the Río Trampas where they may have discovered the plant growing. Today they call it ha’ich’idéé.

Spanish-speaking settlers in the valley took their knowledge of the root north when they moved into the San Luis valley of Colorado. Glenn Appelt interviewed six families in 1986 who used herbal medicines. Four had used oshá in the past two months, two for colds and two for infections. One also had used it for gas and mixed it with olive oil to rub on rheumatic joints.

The plant became so embedded in traditions of local Spanish speakers, it was used when new health problems arose. José Ortiz y Pino remembered when "Doña María knew that her husband, Don Luis, would come home feeling no pain from a night out, she would immediately prepare a piece of oshá root in a glass of whiskey" to be drunk in the morning.

Ortiz, who was born around Galisteo in 1931, said it also was used for stomach gas, colds, and chronic coughs. It was made into a tea or chewed.

Curtin reported another use that was obviously originated by the Spanish speakers themselves. She talked to Penitentes around Córdova who made a salve to treat their wounds. They used mutton tallow as a binder, turpentine as a thinner, and oshá, manzanilla and contrayerba herbs. They also added a small piece of candle wax to the mix. She didn’t note if the wax came from any particular candle, or if its use was pragmatic or symbolic.

Notes: Jacob Krummeck was discussed in the post for 25 October 2015. Curtin used the word campers; Ortiz explained a pastor was responsible for the flock, a campero for locating grazing areas.

Appelt, Glenn D. "Pharmacological Aspects of Selected Herbs Employed in Hispanic Folk Medicine in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, USA: I. L. porteri (Oshá) and Matricaria chamomilla (Manzanilla)," Journal of Ethnopharmacology 13:511-55:1985.

Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore. She identified manzanilla as chamomile and cotrayerba as Kallstroemia brachystlis.

Dodson, Carolyn and William W. Dunmire. Mountain Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies, 2007.

Fontana, Bernard L. Tarahumara, 1979.

Gerard, John. The Herbal, 1633 edition revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson.

Irigoyen-Rascón, Fructuoso. Tarahumara Medicine: Ethnobotany and Healing among the Rarámuri of Mexico, 2015.

Mariano, Falcón. Relación de Wawachiki, 1777; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón.

Ortiz y Pino III, José. Don José: the Last Patrón, 1981.

Solmán, Enrique. Sharing Our Breath with Our Relatives: Rarámuri Plant Knowledge, Lexicon, and Cognition, 1999; quoted by Irigoyen-Rascón; on use against sorcerers.

Wikipedia. "Ligusticum porteri" has an unsourced reference to Jicarilla word.

Photographs: Oshá, purchased at local farmers market on 24 August 2015; photographed 1 November 2015.
1. Oshá densely packed in a small plastic bag.
2. Bag just opened revealing variety of roots.

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