Devils Club an herbal remedy

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Gardening/Plants
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Scientific Name: Echinopanax horridum

Common Name(s): Devil’s club, Alaska ginseng

Ash was applied to cuts to prevent infection; historical uses also included a tea made from scraped bark used to provide symptomatic relief from tuberculosis, colds and pain. Historically considered to be a powerful medicine, however, berries contain a toxin. Interestingly, devil’s club reportly causes low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

The 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 Pacific Northwest .

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 into Prince Rupert , BC 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 Skagit drink the tea after childbirth to restore normal reproductive functions.


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