Lookout Mountain and Round Mountain, Ochoco National Forest: Part 1

The Ochoco National Forest, with such amazing views and abundant medicinal herbs, are always a joy to visit.  This week I was lucky enough to join up with the http://www.highdesertnpsoregon.org/events.html to take a walk up Lookout Mountain.  Four weeks ago we camped on Round Mountain and then visited again last week to record changes in plant species.  The changes between then and now were dramatic, four weeks ago we endured snow and sleet, this week the small creeks were dry and may of the plants had flowered and were drying up.

Ligusticum grayi

Ligusticum grayi

One of my goals this summer was to positively identify Ligusticumgrayi (Gray’s Licorice Root)  and boy did we.  Thankfully a botanist with the Forest Service was along on the Native Plant Society hike and could provide verification.  As a member of the Apiaceae family it could be confused with Poison Hemlock or Water Hemlock, so care needs to be taken in it’s identification.  The reason why I was so determined to identify this plant is that it is proposed to have antibacterial and antiviral properties similar to Ligusticum porteri, although this seems entirely up for debate.  One thesis I found compared the essential oils compounds of Ligusticum grayi to that of the more popular Ligusticum porteri.  Howie Brounstein is by far the greatest proponent of their similarities.  I was surprised that only one documented Native American Tribe, the Atsugewi, used it medicinally, as a cold remedy, a analgesic and pediatric aid.  Although, they considered it  a panacea, meaning many uses, which I consider falling in the category of an important medicinal herb. They chewed the roots or made an infusion.  Osha, or Ligusticum porteri, is considered by many herbalists as an important North American medicinal plant, currently it has been over harvested, so the possibility that there are similar medicinal properties to Ligusticum grayi is promising.

western sweet cicely

Osmorhiza occidentalis

The next plant in abundance is Osmorhiza occidentallis (Western Sweet Cicely), another member of the Apiaceae family.  It was used extensively by many Native American tribes, in particular the Northern Paiute, whose territory encompassed Central Oregon and is one of the three tribes of the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes.  It is also licorice scented and similar cautions should be used in its identification as not be confused with any of the hemlock’s.  It was used both externally and internally as a cold and cough remedy, a gynecological aid, a febrifuge for fevers, an analgesic for stomach aches, a dermatological aid, a pulmonary aid for pneumonia, snakebite remedy, antirheumatic, antidiarrheal, eye medicine, toothache remedy and venereal disease.  The roots were used as an infusion, chewed, poulticed, smoked, and decocted.  In examining its uses one might speculate that  its actions, might include carminative, analgesic, antiphyretic, antiseptic, antirheumatic, antidiarrhetic,stomachic,parasiticide. It was used extensively for infections, swellings, flu and respiratory infections, so one might think that it had antiviral or bacterial properties as well.

Paeonia brownii

Paeonia brownii

Paeonia brownii (Brown’s peony) was not in bloom, but the seed pods were enormous.  Another medicinal herb that had many uses including as a gastrointestinal aid, pulmonary aid, cough medicine, dermatological aid, heart medicine, kidney and throat aid,  antidiarrheal, burn dressing and analgesic.  Used by the Mahuna, Paiute, Shoshoni, Costanoan and Washo Indian tribes it is found (CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY).  At Lookout Mountain it was abundant on the trail and at the top, growing in open meadows, sagebrush deserts, from mid to high elevations.  The roots were the part of the plant used the most.   The root was prepared as a poultice, a decoction, infusion, dried, and powdered.  The only other mention of the plant was, a cold infusion of the seeds for cough medicine.  There was also mention of the Paiutes using it as a veterinary aid, as a decoction to fatten up horses.  Since many ethnographic references are out of context it is often hard to get a understanding of the conditions in which these herbs where used.  A decoction of the root was used as a respiratory aid more often than its other uses helping with fevers, coughs, sore throats and for pulmonary aids.  As a topical it was used to reduce swellings, cuts, woods, sores and burns.  In examining the uses  there are several references to its use in gastrointestinal conditions including stomachaches, indigestion, as a laxative for constipation and to fatten up either horses or people.  The use in “fattening up”, seems to indicate that either it helped relieve indigestion, thereby allowing one to digest food better and helping weight gain, or it had some other action that worked at a constitutional level.

Another plant found along the trail was astragulus whitneyi, a member of the Fabaceae family.  I could not find any medicinal reference to the plant, yet its seed

Astragalus whitneyi

Astragalus whitneyi

pods are so distinctive, I had to include a picture of it.  Astragalus purshii, which was also seen on the hike does have some limited reference to its medicinal uses by the Thompson and Kawailsu tribes.  Several other milkvetch species

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

have a record of use by diverse Indian tribes.  Astragalus purshii  was  primarily used externally as a wash, although the Kawailsu tribe did use it internally for menstrual pains.  As a dermatological aid a decoction of the whole plant was used as a wash for the head, hair and body.  It was also used in the sweat lodge as a disinfectant, and was poured over hunting equipment, when the hunter was having “bad luck”.

There are so many medicinal plants found throughout the Ochoco’s that it will take several blogs to cover them all.

My hope in this endeavor is to first identify the plants that, we who live in Central Oregon, have at our fingertips and then to start to use them therapeutically, embracing the concept of herbal bioregionalism.  Stay tuned.


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