Devil’s Club

Latin:  Oplopanax horridus

Family:  Araliaceae

Parts Used:  Inner root and rhizome bark, at times whole stem

Taste/Energetics:  Bitter, spicy, sweet, warming

Properties:  Tonic, adaptogenic, expectorant, analgesic, alterative, hypoglycemic, purgative (in large doses), antimicrobial, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory

Actions:  Native to the coastal region of the West coast from Northern California to Alaska, Devil’s club has long been considered a sacred and powerful herb to most all of the indigenous nations living there.  For magical purposes it has been used for supernatural protection, for spiritual healing, for ceremony and dancing.  It has also been seen as somewhat of a panacea.  As a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae) it is a cousin to Ginseng and Eleutherococcus, as well as the Northwest Aralia Genus.  Though it does not have the same adaptogenic ginsenosides found in Ginseng, it has long been noted to have a tonic effect on the system and seems to strengthen and give vitality to the user with continued effect.   It has often been used to soothe bronchial complaints such as bronchitis and tuberculosis and in Chinese medicine would be seen as a “wei qi tonic”.  Wei qi refers to the protective energy that helps repel pathogenic invasions, solds, flu, etc.  The herbalist Sean Croke tells about how he was able to cure his asthma with Devil’s Club.

The inner bark of Devil’s club has a golden yellow color and is also quite helpful as an antiiflammatory for the gut, helping to soothe conditions such as IBS, chron’s disease and ulcers.    Finally it has long been used by native peoples for its good effect on diabetes, helping to control blood sugar levels.   This is an herb that grows tall up to 15 feet with massive spiky thorns throughout.  It looks tough, strong and not a plant to mess with.  In fact, there are a number of stories about people inadvertently grabbing Devil’s Club and then getting its thorns lodged in the skin until they become infected.  This would be called “joining the Club”  ha ha.

On a deeper level, this is an herb that should be treated with quite a bit of respect.  This is not an herb we should easily commodify and buy and sell on a large level due to it being somewhat uncommon in the lower 48 and because it has been treated as sacred by indigenous peoples.

I find that I mainly work with this plant at an energetic level.  That often means just taking a few drops of the tincture to get in touch with the plant.  Devils’ Club often works at the level of helping us work through our deepest wounds and fears to help us find our true authentic self and nature, to become strong and clear in who we are and to stand tall in that confidence.  Sometimes that means that Devil’s Club pushes us to overcomes some poor habits, some ways in which we hide.

Dosage:  This is an herb that usually comes in strips so its hard to measure my teaspoons but in general I would suggest 1-2 tbsp (4-8 grams) of herb decocted in a pint of hot water for 30 mins.  Tincture is often the best choice as there is not enough of the herb to be used regularly for teas-  1-2 ml to 3 x/day

Contraindications:   None.

Further Reading:  

Devil’s Club:  An Ethnobotanical Review    by Lantz, Swerhun, Turner

Devil’s Club’s Adaptogenic Effects for Trauma  by Scott Kloos

Devil’s Club, Oregon Grape, Chaparral:  Three Traditional Western Herbs in Contemporary Herbal Practice   by Ryan Drum

Traditional Use of Devil’s Club by Native Peoples in Western North America  by Nancy Turner

Devil’s Club: Sacred Plant of the Northwest  by Jon Keyes

Devil’s Club Monograph   by Mel Kasting (Herb Rally)