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Devil’s Club ~ Oplopanax horridum aka Oplopanax horridus
Araliaceae family


The following, while weighty in information, is in no way complete in the actions and uses of Devil’s Club. It’s a plant worth studying in depth.

Smooth muscle relaxant –
Smooth muscles are located in the walls of hollow internal structures of the body. Lymphatic vessels, urinary, uterus, reproductive tracts, gastrointestinal, respiratory, iris ciliary muscle are examples of smooth muscles. Smooth muscles do their thing independent of conscious thought. Spasms can occur due to a UTI infection, asthma, kidney stones, air/liquid filled intestines, menstrual cramps. They can come on quickly and be very painful. Whoooo! Devil’s Club relaxes the smooth muscles to bring relief. Pregnant women should be careful using DC during the first trimester as it can have a purgative effect.

Cardiac health –
Devil’s Club tones the cardiovascular system and stabilizes blood pressure. In fact, the panaxosides in Devil’s Club may aid the angiogenesis – the formation of new blood vessels, by increasing the expression of HIF-1alpha and CD31 (cell proliferation) of myocardium. Myocardium is heart muscle tissue. In layman’s terms, Devil’s Club aids in the health and strength of the cardiac system, and the formation of blood vessels. Panaxosides in Devil’s Club have been shown to be antiatherosclerotic – aiding in the prevention and regression of atherosclerosis – and anti-hypertensive.

Adrenal fatigue –
Adrenal fatigue begins in the hypothalamus. Located in the brain, the hypothalamus links the endocrine and nervous systems, and is ultimately responsible for energy, circadian rhythm, and body temperature. Under stress, whether it’s driving in rush hour traffic or worry about an upcoming dentist appointment, the hypothalamus synthesizes a corticotropin-releasing hormone and sends it to the pituitary. The pituitary releases an adrenocorticotropic hormone to the adrenals. The adrenals discharge cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which raises the glucose level, gets the heart pumping, muscles moving, and sets up the body to get into a high energy mode. This continues until the hormones reach the levels needed. Then a series of chemical reactions happen to switch off cortisol production. Check this out! Cortisol flooding will actually inhibit the hypothalamus and pituitary from synthesizing the cortisol creating hormones. The body can then slow down and return to homeostasis. When a person has adrenal fatigue, the hypothalamus and pituitary will send out hormone signals to the adrenals, but they are so depleted that nothing happens. The adrenals are not capable of creating hormones to react to stressful situations. Day to day minor stresses become major! Not only do the adrenal glands create cortisol and adrenaline, but also sex hormones and other hormones and chemicals, including dopamine, that the body needs. Other parts of the endocrine system try to compensate for hormone production failure in the weakened adrenals, but that leads to lower neurotransmitter and hormone levels in the body, creating all manner of symptoms such as lethargy and depression.

The araliasides in Devil’s Club helps modulate extreme stress in pituitary and hypothalamus. When healing from adrenal fatigue, it’s best to stay away from stimulating plants such as nettles and coffee, pay attention to circadian rhythm, and reduce/eliminate exposure to blue light after dark from smart phones, computers, TVs, etc. For more information on the health benefits of natural light, go to jackkruse.com

Liver protecting –
Speaking of araliasides, those in oplopanax are glycosides which metabolize to have a powerful effect on hormone producing tissues. When glycosides are consumed, the sugar molecule is usually severed off by enzymatic action either in the gut or in the bloodstream, rendering the medicinal constituent bioavailable. Araliasides can help protect the liver from damage due to chemicals such as industrial solvents, pollutants, drugs.

Oplopanax contains sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpenoid alcohols – 
Terpenes are also known as essential oils. Essential oils are part of a plant’s immune system, and play a role in attracting pollinators and in communication. Essential oils can be healing in the human body on a cellular level. Molecules that make up essential oils are so tiny that they can lift up in the air and enter our nasal passages, pass through the blood/brain barrier, and travel throughout our entire circulatory system. Their ability to travel throughout our body can be beneficial and detrimental, depending on the terpene and quantity ingested via skin, digestive system, and inhalation. The molecules themselves are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Essential oils are lipids – lipids are fats. Lipids are hydrophobic, meaning that they do not dissolve readily in water, but do in solvents such as alcohol, pancreatic lipase from the pancreas, and bile from the liver. Essential oils are broken down into fatty acids. Fatty acids form a long lipoprotein structure that transports fats through the lymph system. So listen, this is how the antimicrobial and antifungal properties can get from our oplopanax tincture through our digestive system into the very system where it will have the most beneficial effect. Terpenes are made of carbon skeletons with hydrogen atoms attached. The basic building blocks of life are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Interesting, hey? What needs to be noted is that essential oils, or terpenes, are very concentrated and very strong. Special care must be used when working with terpenes. While a small amount may be beneficial, too high a concentration, dose and/or duration can prove harmful or even fatal.

Sesquiterpenes are by nature antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and calming agents. What is a calming agent? It’s what helps a person to relax when stressed or agitated.

Anti-inflammatory –
Cancer is now thought to perhaps be a result of chronic inflammation. Oplopanax’s anti-inflammatory services and sesquiterpenes are valuable as a possible cancer prevention. With the usage of Devil’s Club, the quantity of lymphocytes, macrophages and platelet should increase. Panaxosides not only regulate intestinal micro-ecology balance, they are an immunomodulator, may prevent the formation of hepatocarcinoma hydroperitonia (liver cancer), and can relieve the side effects of chemotherapy.

Pain Reliever –
One of the sesquiterpenes in Devil’s Club – nerolidol – is used as a skin penetration enhancer in beauty products. The presence of nerolidol in a medicinal oil of Devil’s Club, when applied to the skin, aids in the rapid delivery of pain relief to the affected area.

Hormone modulator –
Panaxosides in oplopanax act as hormonal modulators. Their amphiphilic (possessing affinities for both water and fat) nature allows them to enter the nucleus (as do steroid hormones) of cells, and the sugar residues fine-tune their effect on the gene expression. Panaxosides affect receptors and other structures outside the cell nucleus, and have a stabilizing effect on the cell membrane. Ginsenosides, a term which is used interchangeably with panaxosides, permit energy levels to rise, which aids the body’s capacity for both physical and mental energy, and reduces susceptibility to stress. Ginsenosides also stimulate the immune system, leading to an increased resistance to bacterial and viral infections, and a more rapid recovery from illness. Devil’s Club has a beneficial effect on the functioning of the internal secreting organs, is anti-thrombotic (reduces or prevents blood clots), regulates blood sugar levels (anti-diabetic), and reduces cholesterol levels.

Men’s health –
Devil’s club is helpful during andropause males in raising testosterone levels. Andropause occurs when the hormone testosterone goes below the normal range for the mature male. Testosterone supports males in building protein, and is crucial for normal sex drive and stamina. Testosterone contributes to several metabolic functions including bone formation and liver function.

Lung health –
Devil’s Club resolves phlegm, treats cough, colds, bronchitis.

Harvesting Devil’s Club – 
When harvesting any plant in the wild, please follow these 3 simple rules:
1. NEVER harvest a plant without 200% correct identification. Harvesting the wrong plant is a very good way to harm or kill yourself and others. I have been leading wildcrafting intensives for almost 30 years. Consider joining one or more.
2. NEVER harvest a plant before knowing its medicine. For crap’s sake. This is how plants get collected and thrown away. Or mediocre or wrong medicine is made and either hurts people or doesn’t do anything. Any way, it goes a long way towards the mentality that “herbs don’t work and/or are dangerous.” No, it’s people harvesting without proper consideration that are dangerous.
3. NEVER harvest more than you need. Don’t know how much you’ll need in a year? Start with a small amount and learn about that plant thoroughly. Next year, you can harvest more. Make only a small amount of medicine and spend time learning about it. The very first salve that I made 8,454.254813 years ago was a gallon in size. It went rancid before I could use/give it all away.

Harvesting Devil’s club is very prickly work. The recumbent stems and leaves are covered with little spikes that shred and often lead to staph infection. You’ll need to use heavy leather gloves and wear thick jeans for this work. The scent of Devil’s Club in unmistakable as is the boost you’ll get while harvesting and processing it. Remember that much of what is put on the skin can easily go into the bloodstream. This most definitely includes the terpenes present in the bark of the recumbent stems and roots. You may want to have a pair of garden or kitchen gloves handy for processing after harvest.

Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert

Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert

Suzanne Tabert, bioregional herbalist, is director of herbal education and herbal mentor at the Cedar Mountain Herb School. An herbal medicine instructor for 30 years, Suzanne teaches with great passion and excitement, bringing her wealth of herbal knowledge to students in an engaging and vibrant manner. She is the primary instructor at CMHS and an adjunct faculty at Bastyr University. Taking students to wild places and giving them tools to engage and connect with flora, fauna, and the exquisite beauty of nature is the icing on the cake of life, and one way that Suzanne is making a difference in the world, one person, one group at a time. She is currently writing a wildcrafting book that will be able to be utilized by people of all walks of life who wish to take their health back into their own hands. Cedar Mountain Herb School is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, Partnership in Education with United Plant Savers, and the American Herb Association.

31 Comments

  • Rebecca Jones says:

    Any tincture recipes?

    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

      Are you asking for Devil’s Club tincture specifically, or tinctures in general? Please refer to my Plant Medicine Made Easy article for directions. Thanks!

  • Flora says:

    Can you harvest the bark year round? Or are there times of the year that it’s better?

    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

      Hello Flora!

      I harvest Devil’s Club bark August through early March, and leave the plant to grow and make more of itself during the growing season. Hope this helps!

      • Mandy Wood says:

        The natives in Alaska always harvest in spring at the starting a new growth. New fresh juices.

        • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

          That’s cool! Everyone has their ways and their experiences that make the plant valuable to them. Thank you for that information.

    • Noelani Jefferson says:

      Hi! So I am indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and we harvest early spring when the devils club is wet enough, and when the new spring life is breathed into the stock giving it the most strength.

      Harvesting during drier seasons makes stripping off the outer thorns more tedious and harder to peel the green inner bark off with ease.

      This comes from Ancestral knowledge passed on for thousands of years from masters who have worked with the plant since time immemorial.

      • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

        So wonderful that you’re carrying your ancestral knowledge forward. It’s very important to preserve this knowledge and I understand why people would want to harvest during wet times.

        While the spikes might be harder to remove during other times, the medicine is available.

      • Ditidaht son says:

        I’m First Nations out of Vancouver Island, same we harvest early spring-summer along with cedar bark

        • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

          That’s wonderful! I love hearing about what others do, herbally. I hope you and yours are well and staying safe.

  • Sara Lynch says:

    Do you still do seasonal apprenticeships? I believe it was you that I took a soap class from a few years back and still make my own soap.

    • Suzanne@cedarmountainherbs.com says:

      Hi Sara!
      Yes, there are seasonal apprenticeship programs here at Cedar Mountain Herb School. We have our flagship spring and summer Tuesday programs and the Roots to Tips second weekend of the month April – September. All programs are full for this year. The programs for 2019 will be open for enrollment starting this October. The programs will begin April 2019. I hope to see you!

  • Karl L Smith says:

    great site thanks for the fantastic information!

  • Ivan Wells says:

    Hello Suzanne,
    I’m First Nations, Tsimpsian, of the North coast of British Columbia, Canada. I’ve grew up always hearing my elders speaking of Devils Club as a medicine for cancer, heart issues and the like, but I’ve never ever heard or read what it is that’s “in” Devils Club that supports the body in fighting off or preventing these issues. I’m so glad for you and your research. I will commit to learning more about it. Wai wah! t’oyuks sm’k nun Suzanne (way to go! – thank you Suzanne).

    • Suzanne Tabert says:

      Hello Ivan,

      Greetings my friend! I’m so happy to hear that you are sharing your wisdom with your people. I bet your elders are very proud of you. Keep on your herbal journey, I sense that you will go a long way! Keep in touch and please feel free to reach out with your questions. Stay safe and be healthy!

  • Melonie says:

    Hi Suzanne Tabert. I’m Melonie and I am in my first trimester of pregnancy. My Umma just made devil’s club tea and I was wondering if devil’s club tea is safe while I’m pregnant. Thank you Suzanne.

    • Suzanne Tabert says:

      Hello Melonie, thank you for your comment and question! I hope you are well and staying safe. If you have a midwife, please refer to her advice about drinking devil’s club tea at this time in your baby’s development. As I don’t have much info to go on, I can’t ethically say whether it would be safe for you. Personally, I would not drink DC tea during pregnancy.

  • Casey says:

    Would freeze drying the bark be a better way if drying it than dehydrating for tea? I have a freeze dryer and use it for nettles and poly pores.

    • Suzanne Tabert says:

      Hello Casey ~ thank you for reading the article! So cool that you have a freeze dryer! Yes, use it for devil’s club.

  • April Koning says:

    Would soaking devils club that has been harvested during the winter when the bark is more tedious to remove help in the removal process?
    Could the whole stalk be emaciated spines and all, then dried, then infused ?
    Thank you.

    • Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert says:

      Hello April,

      Good questions! When I harvest devil’s club, I cut the top leaves from the recumbent stem, then cut the stem into foot long pieces. Holding them away from my body at the harvest site, I use my clippers or a paring knife to scrape the spikes from the stems. Sometimes that takes off the paper thin outer bark, sometimes now. Either way, there is no need to remove the outer bark when peeling the entire outer and inner bark from the stems. Soaking is not necessary and could actually pull some of the medicine from the bark that will be lost. I never soak roots. A quick rub or wash if needed and off I go.

      Always peel the bark. The inner core I call the skeleton and has no medicinal value. Keeping the inner woody part with the bark would serve no good purpose.

      Lastly, devil’s club really should be treated as a micr-dosing herb. A devil’s club tea may cause unwanted effects.

    • Suzanne "Queen Bee" Tabert says:

      Also, if the bark is that hard to scrape with a knife, it may be telling you that it isn’t the right time for harvesting. xxoo

  • April Koning says:

    Hi Suzanne! Thank you for all the info!
    I usually harvest in the spring/summer when the sap is flowing but I read an article someone else wrote and they said they harvested year round , if they needed some.
    So my husband, bless his heart, brought me an armload home about the middle of December 2020 after I had mentioned that I guessed when I sell the last tin of devils club gel…. that’s it for my customers who use it for their arthritis pain, as he said it would have been run over by his feller bunched anyway.
    I was very happy about what he brought home until I tried to scrape the spines off like I usually do and they were soft and just moved back and for instead of snapping off. Then I tried a potato peeler and the bark I want was just coming off with the spines leaving just the skeleton as you call it…… so I guess what I’m trying to find out is… can I use the spines and bark together as they are coming off together, dry that and infuse my oils? Lol Thank you so much for all your guidance thus far…..I really don’t want to waste what my hubby brought home but I was concerned about compounds that could be in the spines also infusing into the oil that might not be good to apply to skin. I’ve asked a few people now and no one seems to know lollipop I guess only a scientist in a lab would be able to say for sure eh? Again, thanks, I hope you can answer that last question😊

    • Hello April,

      Thanks for reading the article! The spikes usually come off easily using leather gloves or a scraping knife, rubbing only moderately. My only concern is that all the spines may not be strained out and may end up in the end product. Perhaps 2 – 3 strainings using a nut bag or very fine mesh strainer. There is nothing to worry about what the spines are composed of, by the way.

  • April Koning says:

    Suzanne, thank you , you’ve answered my question lol i don’t know what lollipops have to do with anything , my phone must have thought it was correcting me 🤣
    Thanks again, I appreciate it very much! April

  • Darlene Hutchins says:

    I have just found out that DC has so many benefits. We always thought it was a terrible painful giant weed.
    You are the first one that I have found that says you dont have to seperate the outer “paper” bark from the cambi.
    What would be the benefit of seperating this?
    Thank you for the information

    • Hello Darlene,

      Thank you for reaching out! There’s really no benefit to separating the outer bark from the inner bark. The outer bark takes up very minimal space, and most people end up throwing out some of the medicinal inner bark when scraping. Did you know we have a cool forum going on our website?
      https://cedarmountainherbs.com/herbal-forum/
      We are wanting it to get very active. It’s a great place to post pics, ask questions, be generous with information you might have and generally hang out with very cool folks!

  • Nana C says:

    My neighbor had a 50-gallon drum sitting on the corner of her lot. In the spring, she would fill it with water and many stalks of devil club, spikes and all and boil them for days. I never saw what happened next, when she felt it was enough cooking. I don’t know how she got the water out of the drum. I’m sure none was wasted. Later on in life, I saw devil club medicine in quart jars in fridge. A dark normal looking tea. Is this what she was brewing? My uncle would have jars on hand and people would call for medicine.

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