paper by Lisa Shock
Photo by Wendy
called Devil’s walking stick and for good reason...the plant is
covered with sharp spiny thorns. Also called Echinopanax horridum.
It is in the Araliaceae (or Aralia) family and very closely related to
Ginsing. Panax is derived from the Greek Panakos (a panacea) in
reference to the vast medicinal uses. Echino refers to the spiny
thorns and horrid(um) is self evident. Other names for it are:
Aralia spinosa, Eleutherococcus senticosus, Acanthopanax &
only seen it near running water, or very damp places. Its “maple
shaped” leaves resemble Thimbleberry but up close the spines make
identification simple. It is found in Alaska, Canada,
Idaho, sometimes forming vast thickets with stems over 10 feet tall. It
spreads mostly by the stems falling to the ground and taking root.
In the spring it has a white flower cluster that matures into a lovely
red berry cluster. The seeds are difficult to germinate and may
take 2 years to sprout. It requires cool moist soil and prefers shade.
It is very hardy to -15C but the leaves are deciduous so it is just a
spiny spike in the winter. It transplants easily and tolerates
pruning. It would make a very thorny living fence that would keep people
& critters at bay. Root cuttings, and suckers in the dormant
season would be the easiest way to propagate it.
Look at the size of the leaves!!
Photo by Margareta Larson
Medicinal and other uses:
berries are poisonous but have been used to kill lice by mashing them up
and applying the paste to the hair. This also treats dandruff and
makes the hair shiny.
The stems and roots are the
primary medicinal part and both can be used but the roots are more
concentrated and easier to use, since the roots don’t have the spines
and are easier to peel. The dried bark can be brewed into a tea or
made into a tincture. It is analgesic, antirheumatic, cathartic,
emmenagogue, galactogogue, hypoglycaemic, alterative, adaptogen,
ophthalmic, and tonic. The active constituents may be saponins and
substances with insulin like activity but research is still ongoing to
identify these medicinal components. It has been called the most
valuable medicinal plant native to the
. Native Americans have used it to treat acute & chronic
disorders, as well as a protective “charm”. Weston Price in
“Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” writes that an Indian admitted
hospital for an operation showed signs of diabetes but had kept himself
healthy for several years just by drinking devil’s club tea.
Laboratory tests of the extract on rabbits showed the blood sugar levels
were reduced without any toxic side effects. Chinese medicine
energetics calls it acrid, bitter, and cool, affecting the spleen and
lung meridians as a yin tonic or alterative for cooling the blood.
Laboratory research has found the extract to be effective at inhibiting
a respiratory syncytial virus, and significant anti-Candida (yeast)
activity, as well as antibacterial and antimycobacterial activity, with
ability to kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium avium.
This explains the common use of the tea to treat coughs, colds, and
respiratory ailments as well as stomach and intestinal problems.
For rheumatism the tea was drunk and also applied to the painful joints.
A poultice of the root bark was applied to a nursing mother’s breasts
to stop excessive flow (at weaning?). An eyewash of the tea was
used to treat cataracts. Treatment of diabetes, especially adult
onset insulin resistant diabetes is just incredible, reportedly reducing
the craving for sugar as well as the elevated blood glucose levels.
Some call it a blood and liver tonic. In large doses it is emetic
(causes vomiting) and purgative. It has also been used in herbal
steam baths for treating general body pain. The burnt stems mixed with
oil make a salve for swellings. The root bark boiled in oil and used to
treat psoriaisis worked better than hydrocortisone in one study. Like
all the ginsengs it is an adaptogen, balancing the stress response and
stabilizing the body. Tlingit Shamans undergo solitary initiations in
the wilderness fasting and drinking Devil’s club tea. Haida hunters
also use the tea to bathe and induce vomiting for a traditional
cleansing. The Lummi burn sticks of Devil’s club and mix the
ashes with grease (today they use Vaseline) to make a reddish brown face
paint. The Klallam peel a stick and cut it into small pieces which
are fastened to bass lines, underwater it releases itself and spins to
the surface working like a lure the fish follows. The Cowliz dry
the bark, powder it for use as perfume or baby talc. The
drink the tea after childbirth to restore normal reproductive functions.
For centuries native people have
known it harbors healing and spiritual powers; they believe those thorns
are there for a reason: to protect the medicine inside. For more
information see: Medicinal plants of the Pacific West by Moore, or
Planetary Herbology by Tierra.
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