What is devil’s club?

By Ralph Radford

I once had the chance to go hiking in the Panama jungle. The weather was hot and humid, with 100 or more deadly snakes sliding around; and many of the plants had spikes or thorns on them to protect themselves against animals.

Luckily, hikers in the Pacific Northwest don’t have to worry about every plant having spikes on them–except for devil’s club. With a name like that, you know that you’re not in for a good time if you grab this plant. It has happened to me, and it took weeks to remove the sliver-size needles deeply embedded in my hand by carefully extracting them with an X-ACTO knife.

But once you have come to respect the devil’s club, it becomes a plant of beauty, with its huge, 6- to15-inch diameter maple-like leaves, cane-like stems and those long, stiff yellow thorns. In fall, its leaves turn a golden yellow, then sheds its leaves for the winter.

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Devil’s club is a good indicator plant that signals a wet, boggy place, or a swampy area with lots of shade. Its giant leaves are adaptation to the dim light in these shady, boggy areas. The giant leaves give the plant away in the spring and summer months, but after the leaves fall in the winter, the plant can be difficult to see, blending in with salmonberry brush. Once buried in the snow, an unwarily hiker may step on the Devil’s club, springing it loose from the snow and clobbering the trekker. Many have met these barbed thorns, and there is a common myth that the thorns are poisoned. Luckily you’ll just get a badge of courage and curses from being injected with a mild, irritating toxin.

Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum) has an unusual scientific name. Oplo implies weaponry, while panax implies cure. The “cure” in this plant comes from being part of the ginseng family. The plant was used as a cure by Native Americans to alleviate colds, ailments and rheumatism. Devil’s club was also used for face painting, tattoo inks and a deodorant.

This plant is still being used as a cure, according to Doctor Jana Nalbandian, a naturalist at Bastyr University. The root of the devil’s club is used to help the body adapt to stressful situations or “adrenal burnout” from mental, nervous, emotional and physical exhaustion.

According to Doctor Nalbandian, the root of the devil’s club can be used as an herb that lends a sense of invigoration and strength on a physical and spiritual level.

To find this plant, look in boggy areas with lots of shade. Leaf stalks and undersides of main veins are spiny, with stems three to 12 feet tall. The plant has bright red berries in terminal clusters and tiny, greenish white flowers in the summer months.

Photo by Ralph Radford.

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Buds of Alaska Ginseng, also known as Devil’s Club

Echinopanax Horridum, more commonly known as Devil’s Club, is in the Oriental Ginseng family. It is commonly found throughout Alaska, and therefore also known as Alaskan Ginseng. Most people are surprised that a plant with such an intimidating appearance has so many culinary and medicinal uses. This amazing, as well as beautiful plant is quickly becoming one of my favorites. (I know it doesn’t look so beautiful now, but when the leaves are huge and the inedible red berries form above, it is lovely.)

Thanks to its sharp spines, Devil’s Club is one of the easiest plants to identify at all stages of growth. If you’ve ever walked through the woods of Alaska or the Pacific Northwest, chances are you’ve seen, or been “attacked” by Devil’s Club. If you happen to get stuck by one of the thorns, try to pull it out without leaving any broken off under your skin. Then make a poultice from a small piece of Devil’s Club leaf and rub into the painful spot. It seems ironic that the “cure” is in the same plant that causes the pain and inflammation. The same is true of Stinging Nettle. I have tried this with both plants.
The parts of the plant that are used are the new buds and the root bark. The buds are mostly used in the kitchen, while the root bark has the medicinal properties. We began collecting Devil’s Club buds a few weeks ago, and last week we dug some roots of the plants that we needed to clear from our yard. Within a quarter mile of our cabin are acres and acres of of Alaska Ginseng. The bark peels easily from the root.

Medicinal Uses of Devil’s Club



Digging Devil’s Club Root for the bark.


Because Devil’s Club belongs to the Oriental Ginseng family, its uses are similar, and lab tests have shown no toxicity. However, as with any plant you have not tried before, proceed with caution. Eat only a very small amount (just a taste) at first, wait a day or so, and then work up slowly.
Colds, Pain and Bug Bites


Pieces of Devil’s Club Root


It has been used often for the prevention and treatment of colds and other illnesses, and is said to be very helpful for sore muscles and the pain of arthritis. I don’t have arthritis, so I haven’t tried it for that. It appears to have wonderful anti-inflammatory properties, and also reduces the pain and swelling from bee stings and insect bites. My boys love playing with bees, and just accept the consequence of frequent stings. Fortunately, when the bees are out the Chickweed is abundant. (More about that in another post.) Since Chickweed is much easier to gather for an emergency bee sting than Devil’s Club root, that’s what they grab first.


Pile of Devil’s Club root dug from our yard


I’m soaking some of the Devil’s Club root bark in olive oil now and will make a salve to keep on hand (as well homemade soap with the infused oil, and dried root bark for tea and tincture). I think it would be wonderful mixed with Comfrey root, which I grow in my herb garden. Comfrey’s nickname is “Boneknit” because of its amazing ability to heal broken bones. I have used it in my family several times and am a strong believer! It is equally impressive in healing soft tissue. With little boys, I use it all the time for bumps, bruises and scrapes. But, Comfrey is not particularly helpful for pain. That’s why I think Devil’s Club and Comfrey mixed together would make an excellent salve to keep on the shelf for when one of my boys comes in with a scraped knee or a bump on the head after crashing his sled into a tree (that happens more often that I care to think about).

Lowered Blood Sugar and Weight Loss?

Peeled Devil’s Club Root.
The root barkis the part used.

There have been reports of Devil’s Club stabilizing blood sugar and reducing the need for insulin in diabetics. I find it interesting that Chickweed (like Devil’s Club in it’s use for bee stings and bug bites) also helps stabilize blood sugar. I have quite a sweet tooth. When I drink a little Chickweed tea or take a spoonful of the tincture daily, I no longer crave sweets. And if I do eat sweets while I’m using Chickweed, I don’t have the blood sugar fluctuations that I usually feel. Normally, if I eat sweets at night, by morning my blood sugar is very low and I have an awful headache. When I drink Chickweed tea daily, that doesn’t happen.
Another plus is that when I first started taking Chickweed, I lost 5 pounds the first two weeks although my diet had not changed! That was certainly a welcome “side effect”! 🙂 I have since read that it helps metabolize fats, as well as carbohydrates, although I have not read any specific studies. I wonder if Devil’s Club root does the same. I suspect it does.

Culinary Uses of Devil’s Club

Drying Devil’s Club buds for the winter.

Even the new buds of Devil’s Club have spines, but they are soft. Rub in the direction they grow and you will see what I mean. If it hurts to pick them then they are too old to eat. The buds are not an ideal trail snack “as is”, however, if the spines are really soft, the buds can be eaten raw.
Devil’s Club buds taste a little like celery, only not as sweet. I like to use them fresh, as well as dehydrated as I would use celery. In one of the pictures you can see the buds that I pulled apart and placed on the shelves of the non-electric food dehydrator.

Plate of deep fried Devil’s Club Buds, along with
Batter Fried Wild Chives. Delicious!

Once cooked, the flavor changes and doesn’t quite keep that celery-like flavor, although it is still delicious. It’s hard to describe because it has a taste all its own. We love this time of year when they are a special treat for us. We especially enjoy the buds chopped in egg and potato dishes. When I want to keep the celery flavor in cooked foods, I prefer to use Cow Parsnip stems. Since we live so remote, I can’t get to the store to purchase celery, and it doesn’t grow well here. I much prefer to use wild plants whenever I can!
In the last picture, you see a plate full of batter fried Devil’s Club buds and Wild Chives. Our cultivated chives don’t hold a candle to the wild ones. I’ve never measured, but I usually chop a large handful or two into batter, and either fry them up alone or add them to the batter with Fiddleheads or Devil’s Club buds.

Bloxton, J. D. Notes on Economic Plants: Bioactive constituents of Alaskan devil’s root (

Gruber JW, Kittipongpatana N, Bloxton JD 2nd, et al. High-performance liquid chromatography and thin-layer chromatography assays for Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus). J Chromatogr Sci 2004;42:196-9. View abstract.

Justice, J. W. Use of devil’s club in Southeast Alaska. Alaska Med. 1966;8(2):36-39. View abstract.

Kobaisy M, Abramowski Z, Lermer L, et al. Antimycobacterial polyynes of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), a North American native medicinal plant. J Nat Prod 1997;60:1210-3. View abstract.

Lantz, T, Swerhun, K, and Turner, N. Devil’s club an ethnobotanical review. HerbalGram 2004;(62):33-48.

Large, R. G. and Brocklesby, H. N. A hypoglycaemic substance from roots of Devil’s club (

MacDermot, J. H. Food and medicinal plants used by the Indians of British Columbia. Can Med Assoc J. 1949;(61):177-183.

McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol 1995;49:101-10. View abstract.

Oliver-Bever, B and Zahnd, G. R. Plants with Oral Hypoglycemic Action. Quart J Crude Drug Res. 1979;(17):139-196.

Piccoli, L. J, Spinapolice, M. E., and Hecht, M. A pharmacologic Study of Devil’s Club Root. J Am Pharm Assoc. 1940;(29):11-12.

Smith, G. W. Arctic pharmacognosia II. Devil’s Club, Oplopanax horridus. J.Ethnopharmacol. 1983;7(3):313-320. View abstract.

Stuhr, E. T and Henry, F. B. An investigation of the root bark of

Turner NJ, Thompson LC Thompson MT York AZ. Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. 1990.

Turner, N. J. Traditional Use of Devil’s-Club (

Devil’s Club

Bloxton, J. D. Notes on Economic Plants: Bioactive constituents of Alaskan devil’s root (

Gruber JW, Kittipongpatana N, Bloxton JD 2nd, et al. High-performance liquid chromatography and thin-layer chromatography assays for Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus). J Chromatogr Sci 2004;42:196-9. View abstract.

Justice, J. W. Use of devil’s club in Southeast Alaska. Alaska Med. 1966;8(2):36-39. View abstract.

Kobaisy M, Abramowski Z, Lermer L, et al. Antimycobacterial polyynes of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), a North American native medicinal plant. J Nat Prod 1997;60:1210-3. View abstract.

Lantz, T, Swerhun, K, and Turner, N. Devil’s club an ethnobotanical review. HerbalGram 2004;(62):33-48.

Large, R. G. and Brocklesby, H. N. A hypoglycaemic substance from roots of Devil’s club (

MacDermot, J. H. Food and medicinal plants used by the Indians of British Columbia. Can Med Assoc J. 1949;(61):177-183.

McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol 1995;49:101-10. View abstract.

Oliver-Bever, B and Zahnd, G. R. Plants with Oral Hypoglycemic Action. Quart J Crude Drug Res. 1979;(17):139-196.

Piccoli, L. J, Spinapolice, M. E., and Hecht, M. A pharmacologic Study of Devil’s Club Root. J Am Pharm Assoc. 1940;(29):11-12.

Smith, G. W. Arctic pharmacognosia II. Devil’s Club, Oplopanax horridus. J.Ethnopharmacol. 1983;7(3):313-320. View abstract.

Stuhr, E. T and Henry, F. B. An investigation of the root bark of

Turner NJ, Thompson LC Thompson MT York AZ. Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. 1990.

Turner, N. J. Traditional Use of Devil’s-Club (

Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus)

Description/Habitat: Devil’s club is a large shrub native to the wet, old growth coniferous forests in the pacific-northwest, British Columbia, and south-central Alaska. There are also small scattered populations on the islands around Lake Superior and in Ontario.

It grows from 3-10 feet tall, with many spines along the stems, petioles, and major leaf veins. The leaves are large and palmately lobed. The flowers are small and whitish, borne in pyramidal clusters, and ripen to shiny falttened, bright red berries.

Energetics: Warming (slightly), sweet, bitter

Properties: Hypoglycemic, adaptogenic, expectorant, respiratory stimulant, aromatic bitter, amphoteric

Taste: Bitter, acrid (slightly), sweet

Parts Used: Root and lower stem bark

Tissue States: Cold stagnation, atrophy, generally deficient

Key Uses: Insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, late onset hypoglycemia (in small doses), PCOS and other blood sugar related hormone dysregulation, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune dis-function (Michael Moore), stress induced overeaters, as an expectorant for thick mucus, short term for sugar cravings.

History and Ethnobotany: Devil’s club has a long history of use as a decoction in the Native American tribes of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest for rheumatism and arthritis, stomach and digestive ailments, tuberculosis, colds, skin disorders, toothaches and diabetes. The berries are poisonous if eaten but were used by the Haida tribe applied topically for lice.

Ritual huts were constructed of Devil’s Club spiny stems for Shamans to prepare for important work and to warn away intruders. It was also attributed to be able to bring about supernatural powers and was used as a power plant for protection, cleansing, and purification, usually by being worn.

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Devil’s club, scientific name: Oplopanax horridus, is a shrub in the Araliaceae family found in the pacific northwest. The inner bark of the root of devil’s club is used orally for arthritis, as a purgative, an emetic, for wound healing, fever, tuberculosis, stomach trouble, cough, cold, sore throat, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and pneumonia. Devil’s club contains equinopanacene, equinopanacol, saponins, glycerides, tannins, and steroid-related compounds. It also contains nerolidol, which has sedative and spasmolytic activity, and stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol, which have antirheumatic and cholesterol-lowering properties. Devil’s club is used topically as a treatment for swollen glands, boils, sores, and skin infections.

Also known as: Bois Piquant, Cukilanarpak, Devils Club, Devil’s Root, Fatsia, Garrote del Diablo, Panax Horridum

Diseases and Conditions

There is insufficient reliable information available about the effectiveness of devil’s club.

Safety

There is insufficient information on the overall safety of devil’s club for adults, children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women. Chronic ingestion of devil’s club may lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Topical allergic reactions
  • Diarrhea

Medication Interactions

There are no known medication interactions for devil’s club.

Supplement and Food Interactions

There are no known supplement, herb, or food interactions for devil’s club.

Dosage

For general health, it is recommended to take one-third to one-half of a glass, size not specified, of devil’s club decoction daily. Traditional preparation and dosing involves filling a three-gallon pot with dried roots, stems, or both, and adding water to the brim. The mixture is boiled for three to four hours, then filtered, cooled, and stored in air-tight glass bottles. For hypoglycemic effects, it is recommended to take one and four-tenths to one and six-tenths milliliters of an aqueous extract per pound of body weight. For weight gain, colds, and other illnesses, it is recommended to take one hundred twenty-five milliliters before meals to treat weight loss, colds, and other illnesses. For wounds/fractures, it is recommended to take a raw inner bark either chewed and spit on wounds for analgesia, or laid in strips over a fracture to help with pain and swelling. For swellings, an ointment is made by burning the stems and mixing the ashes with grease to alleviate swellings.

Foods

There is insufficient evidence to determine if devil’s club can be found in foods.

Oplopanax Devil’s Club: Devil’s Club Plant Information And Growing Conditions

Devil’s club is a ferocious Pacific Northwest native plant. With its wicked spines and impressive height, it makes an interesting conversation point in the garden and as part of a natural landscape. Oplopanax devil’s club is perfect for shady areas of the garden where soil is nitrogen rich and moist. If you are looking for a unique, but native specimen, a devil’s club growing in your garden will provide a wonderful surprise and many seasons of interest.

Devil’s Club Information

Devil’s club plant (Oplopanax horridus) is a historical medicinal and herbal plant used for centuries by First Nations people. It is also known as devil’s walking stick or bear’s claw.

Oplopanax devil’s club is found from Alaska down through the western-most Canadian provinces and into Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It is also found in the Great Lakes area. The plant is well armored, with spines of many different sizes decorating the stems and even undersides of leaves.

Leaves are reminiscent of maples and the plant can grow 3 to

9 feet (0.9-2.7 m.) in height. The plant also produces panicles of white flowers which become thick clusters of red berries, favored by bears and other wild animals.

Devil’s Club Plant Uses

Devil’s club has medicinal properties, but it’s also been known to be used for fishing lures, charcoal, and to make tattoo ink. Other uses include deodorant and lice control.

No devil’s club information would be complete without mentioning some of its traditional uses. Tribal medicine indicates that the plant was used to treat colds, arthritis, digestive tract issues, ulcers, and even diabetes. It was also used to combat tuberculosis and as a purgative.

Is devil’s club poisonous? All of the literature that I have read states it is used as a medicine but no mention is made of its toxicity. The plant is certainly safe to have in the landscape, but it does have fairly wicked spines, so ensure it is out of the reach of small children and pets.

Outside of its medicinal uses, devil’s club was thought to have spiritual powers. Sticks of it were used to ward off evil spirits.

Devil’s Club Growing Tips

To enjoy this amazing plant in your garden, find it in a native garden center. Never harvest wild plants from nature.

Choose a shady to semi-shady location where drainage is good but there is plenty of organic material to keep moisture in the soil. Mulch around the plant after installation. Keep the plant moderately moist but not soggy.

Devil’s club doesn’t need much fertilizing, but adding some well-rotted compost or leaf litter around the root zone will enhance its health.

Cut off any damaged or dead leaves as they occur. This cousin of wild ginger will drop leaves after a cold snap, but new ones form in early spring. Enjoy the strange architecture of the naked plant but be careful of those stinging spines!

We all have our quirks. Some wear an apron while they cook. Others enjoy Cheez-Its with their PB&J’s. Some still drink Shirley Temples when they’re 36. Many say we “collect” kitchenware as a hobby to cover for our kitchenware hoarding problem.

Whatever…they’re quirks! They make us unique, right?! (Don’t judge- Cheez-Its and PB&J’s go together like peas and carrots, just trust me. Also, I own 4 colanders if you need one. I wish to God I was joking. I am not.)

Freshly harvested Devil’s Club shoots

One quirk I embrace: I’m a forager, and I embrace my inner hunter & gatherer.

Now, by “hunter & gatherer” I don’t mean to conjure up an image of me in an Elmer Fudd hat with a 30-06 slung over my shoulder ready to field dress a moose. Although let’s all take a moment and do that right now.

That was fun.

Shoots after they’ve been blanched in boiling, salted water and “shocked” in an ice bath.

No, by hunter & gatherer, I mean I am a woman who enjoys nature’s edible bounty in all its forms. Fish, shellfish, game, and lately wild edible plants. I mean, they’re free! More importantly, they’re delicious!! Now admittedly I’m still a novice at foraging for wild edibles, although my foraging roots for Alaska’s wild seafood go way, way, way back.

Currently, my wild edible plant repertoire consists of young cow parsnip (delicious roasted), fireweed shoots (similar to asparagus, and can be eaten raw), fiddleheads (total pain in the a** to clean, but broke down and picked some last weekend– they’re butter, garlic, and lemon’s BFF), stinging nettles (just picked last night, still not sure what to do with them), and my favorite so far: Devil’s Club leaf shoots, or buds.

Devil’s Club grow all over Southcentral Alaska on many of my favorite trails and hikes. When fully grown, Devil’s Club is a nasty, horrible bane of a hiker’s existence. But when they are buds an inch or two long, they are a tasty, delicate treat. To me, they have notes of pine, mint, parsley, and resin. I absolutely love it and have never quite tasted anything like them. Because of their incredible flavor, they’re well worth the effort to harvest!

I learned a lot about foraging for Devil’s Club buds from an article written by Laurie Constantino. Wear long sleeves and plants when picking these suckers. While the shoots are soft, their thorny stalks are not so tread carefully. Pick shoots 1 – 2 inches long, when the buds are tender and their spiny undersides are still soft to the touch. USE GLOVES! (I learned this seemingly common sense lesson the hard way. OUCH!) Simply grab the bud, bend it down, twist, and it comes right off. Discard the inedible outer brown sheaths, wash in cold water several times, blanch in boiling salted water for a couple minutes, and plunge into a cold water bath. Drain and they’re ready to eat as is, or to use in any culinary creation you can dream up.

The first time I ate Devil’s Club buds, I simply tossed them with olive oil, salt and lemon after blanching them. They were delicious! I still think this is my favorite way to eat them. I also added curry one time and while it turned out great, the curry flavor was too strong for the delicate flavor of the buds. In my recipe below, I find the fennel and dill pair wonderfully with the piney/resin-like flavor of the shoots.

I hope you head out and find some buds- the short spring window is about to close! You can still find many buds at higher elevations around Southcentral Alaska. Happy foraging!!

Find more recipes like this on the Chena Girl Cooks blog.

Devil’s Club Buds with Fennel and Dill

(Adapted from Laurie Constantino)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large fennel bulb (or one small), cored and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of Aleppo pepper (optional)
3 cups Devil’s Club buds/shoots
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

(1) Clean Devil’s club buds by picking out any twigs or leaves and by washing twice in cold water. Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water and several ice cubes. Blanch shoots for 2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain and plunge immediately into the cold water. Drain again. Lay shoots flat on a kitchen towel. Place another towel on top and squeeze out the excess water, or roll the shoots up in the towel and gently squeeze out excess water.

{**At this point, if you want to use them for later use, let air dry for a couple hours, then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer overnight. In the morning, put the frozen shoots in a large ziplock bag and store in the freezer. This is also how I freeze berries for winter storage.}

(2) In a large skillet, sauté fennel in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, until soft and golden brown. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and sauté another 30 seconds. Add blanched Devil’s Club buds, stirring until just warmed through and moisture has evaporated from the buds. Add lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!
xo h

: Devil’s Club

Oplopanaxhorridum – Devil’s Club

Devil’s Club – Oplopanaxhorridum (a.k.a. Echinopanax horridum)

Oplopanax = L. “prickly porcupine-ginseng”;

Identification: This strongly aromatic shrub has a very coarse nature, being densely covered with spines and prickles. Standing 1 – 3 m (occasionally as high as 5 m), it has alternate leaves on long petioles, 5 – 7 lobed, palmate and 10 – 30 cm wide, with prickly ribs on the underside. The flowers are borne on umbels in large terminal clusters, 10 – 30 cm long, with greenish petals, 2 styles; fruits brightly scarlet, 4 – 5 mm long, 2 seeded.

Distribution & Habitat: Found from Alaska to Oregon and as far east as Lake Superior in moist rich soil, along stream banks, often in thick wooded areas such as cedar forest. It usually grows in dense thickets.

Preparation & Uses: When the young spring shoot first appears in the early spring (only for a few days) the green tender stalks can be eaten. The leaf clusters can be eaten raw or as Schofield suggests added to omelettes, casseroles or soups. As soon as the leaf spines stiffen, they are not edible.

Medicinally this plant has a multitude of uses. It belongs in the same family as ginseng. It is listed as being hypoglycemic, cathartic, emetic (in large doses), stomachic, analgesic and diaphoretic. Used heavily by West coast Indians for both medicinal and “strong magical powers“, it was widely traded. One of the most famous applications amongst West coast Indians was for adult onset diabetes. It is reportedly capable of reducing the need for (and in some cases completely eliminate) injected insulin. The inner bark is boiled as a decoction. In our clinic we use a tincture of inner bark of the roots. The hypoglycemic effect was verified in 1938 in medical studies, after Native people were found using it, but little subsequent attention has been paid to Devil s Club.

It has been suggested that hypoglycemics should not take this herb. Yet I’ve met hypoglycemic people who, ignorant of this fact, say it helps them get rid of “… the late afternoon hangover from reality”. Modern practitioners have also employed this herb to curb sugar cravings. Many native groups used a root bark decoction, or simply chewed it. During fasts, it was felt to aid a person in curbing appetite and even to assist with visions.

Being a member of the ginseng family, some myths about this herb (deserved or not) claim it is a great body-balancer and strengthener. The southeast Alaskan Indians used the decoction to cure and prevent cancer. Both internally and externally the bark has been used for arthritis. Infusion, decoction, chewing the bark or simply laying the bark on the sore area were the application methods. As an analgesic, the tea was used by some and others burned the bark to a white ash and applied it topically both to wounds and to stop pain. For arthritis and rheumatism, sometimes the whole body was soaked in the tea (while the patient also drank it).

An ointment made of the root bark has been used for treatment of sore and stiff joints, swelling, as a liniment and for massage oils. A decoction was used as the water for sweat lodges or steams to treat rheumaism, digestive complaints and pneumonia. Both paste and poultices have been used to treat wounds, bites, stings and skin problems, including the festered sore that can be caused by this plant s prickles. Some have used a powdered root bark as a foot bath after long hikes.

Indigestion, constipation and general stomach complaints were treated with a decoction of the bark by Coast Indians. The Thompson Indians used its tonic, laxative and blood cleansing abilities as a spring tonic. In Alaska, the Tlingit and Haida tribes were reported to use a bark infusion for “general strength, colds, chest pain after colds, arthritis, black eyes, gall stones, stomach ulcers, and constipation”. For chest complaints it was used for everything from colds, pneumonia, hoarse throats and even tuberculosis. A mixture of Devil s Club root, Labrador tea and clover roots, was used by native peoples during epidemics to ward off illness. It was also used in sweats and burned to ward off evil spirits associated with disease. It was used as protection from evil spirits — hung over doorways, on fishing boats or worn as amulets by shamans.

For toothaches, the root can be chewed or applied as a poultice to painful areas. It was sometimes chewed and spit on a wound as an emergency analgesic. Large amounts are said to cause a “drunkenness”, maybe one of the reasons it has been used for vision seeking.

Several tribes used this herb for childbirth. The Bella Coola used it as a purgative before and after childbirth. The Skagit decocted it, with other herbs, after childbirth to establish regular menstrual flow. The Shuswap drank the decoction for several days after childbirth. The dethorned bark was laid on Skagit women to reduce milk flow when it was too heavy. The dried powdered bark was pulverized by the Cowlitz Indians and used as a perfumed talc for babies. This same mixture has been used as a deodorant by other groups.

The berries were used as a hair tonic, especially to kill lice and as a treatment for dandruff in small children.

The Lummi Indians of Washington State burnt the “sticks” and mixed the ash with grease to make a reddish – brown face paint.

Caution: The prickles produce a festering wound that can be treated by a poultice of the root bark but it is best to use extreme caution when hiking near the plant. The best time to harvest is in spring. It is felt that it is strongest then. One article suggests that if the root is harvested after a killing frost in the fall the sap contains some poisonous substances.

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