Devil's Club - Oplopanax horridus

devil's club botany with brit

Devils Club is spiny. Super spiny. Uber spiny. The "horridus" part of the Latin name refers to these intense centimeter long spines that you really don't want to get imbedded in your skin, which cover the stems and undersides of the leaves. This primordial-looking plant is a relative of Ginseng, and it was one of the most medicinally and spiritually important plants to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.

The plant grows 1-3 meters tall and has an imposing presence. Its spine-covered stems are thick, crooked, and almost unbranched; the leaves are maple-leaf shaped and the flowers small, white, and abundant in a pyramidal cluster. These clusters of flowers turn into clusters of bright red shiny berries which bears think are very tasty but are inedible to humans. Though not edible, they were mashed up and rubbed on the scalp as a lice and dander treatment - and to make hair shiny. Because Pantene Pro-V didn't always exist.

Devils Club was used to treat a wide variety of ailments - a list so long that it reads like a list of side effects on a modern day drug commercial: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, diphtheria, fever, flu, heart disease, lice, measles, pneumonia, and stomach trouble (to name a few). The plant has hypoglycemic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. The root and green inner bark were used in a variety of forms: as a tea, in steambaths, and in poultices.

The magical properties of the plant were probably considered inseparable from the medicinal properties, and it's only our modern concepts that divide the two. Devils Club sticks were used as protective charms, and the charcoal of burned stalks was mixed with bear grease to make face paint for dancers participating in rituals. The plant was used for purification purposes, and was sometimes used to purify a house following a death. It was believed to guard against witchcraft, and the Haida also believed the plant could bring luck in gambling.

Utilitarian uses of the plant also exist. The wood of the stalk is lightweight, and it was used to fashion fishing lures because the wood was light-colored and lightweight The pulverized bark was used as a deodorant as well.

Devils Club is a magical medicine cabinet that looks like it belongs in Jurassic Park - hard to beat.