Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Oplopanax horridus - Devil's Club

Toxic, Sharp Spines, Young Shoots, Roots (with caution), Wood, Paint, Delicer, Hair Wash, Snuff, Achne, Diabetes, Rheumatism, Topical and Various Other Uses


"The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs)Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure." [PFAF]


Ecological Indicator Information

"A shade-tolerant, submontane to subalpine, Asian and North American deciduous shrub distributed equally in the Pacific, Cordilleran, and Central regions. Occurs on very moist to wet, nitrogen-rich soils within boreal, cool temperate, and cool mesothermal climates; its occurrence increases with increasing precipitation and continentality. Common, often dominant. in semi-open forests on water-receiving (floodplain, seepage, and stream-edge) and water-collecting sites; occasional on water­shedding sites when soils are calcareous. Typically associated with ferns (Athyrium filix-femina, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, and Polystichum munitum) and forbs (Actaea rubra, Galium triflorum, Tiarella trifoliata, and T. unifoliata). A nitrophytic species characteristic of Moder and Mull humus forms. "[IPBC-E-flora]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

Poultices of bark or leaves used to treat arthritis, diabetes, fevers, coughs, tuberculosis, boils, and infections. Modern herbalists use devil's club to stimulate respiration, as an expectorant for chest colds, and to treat adult-onset diabetes.[Berries]
Devil's club was widely employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it especially for its pain-relieving properties[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism, though it probably merits further investigation. [PFAF]


One of the most important medicinal plants of the West; roots, berries, and greenish bark are used. Berries rubbed in hair to kill lice and create a shine. Inner bark chewed raw as a purgative, or decocted and imbibed for the same reason. Infused inner bark taken to relieve bowel, stomach cramps; arthritis; and ulcers.[Meuninck EWPUH]

Devil's club attracted medical attention in 1938 when Brocklesby, a British Columbia physician, discovered that his patient was successfully stabilizing his diabetes with devil's club root bark infusions. In laboratory tests conducted by Large and Brocklesby in 1938, devil's club showed no apparent toxicity. Devil's club has been shown to have an amphoteric (normalizing) effect on blood sugar. At the New Mexico Herbal Center in Albuquerque, type I (adult onset) diabetics experienced lowering of blood sugars when taking Oplopanax in conjunction with blueberry leaf tea and dietary modifications. Clients with low blood sugar also obtained positive responses.[Schofield]

Michael Moore, director of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, writes in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, the cold infusion, and to a lesser degree the fresh or dry tincture, is clearly helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorders, taken regularly and with sensible modifications in the diet. It is most helpful when taken during remissions and has little effect during active distress; its main value is in modifying extremes of metabolic stress. . . ."

Devil's club belongs to the same family as Oriental ginseng, and like ginseng, is used as a body-balancing and system-strengthening tea. Southeast Alaska Indians believe that regular use prevents cancer. I frequently add devil's club to tonic blends, such as Spring Fever.[Schofield]

Tlingit and Haida tribes use devil's club bark infusions ". . . for general strength, colds, chest pain following a cold, arthritis, black eyes, gallstones, stomach ulcers, constipation." Justice adds that the chewed stalk is ". . . spit directly upon open wounds as an emergency analgesic measure. The bark may be laid in strips, inner side against the skin, to reduce the pain and swelling from a fracture."[Schofield]

Aleuts of Prince William Sound drink devil's club tea for cold and pain relief; in addition, they burn bark to a white ash and apply this to cuts to hasten healing. devil's club, steeped in hot water overnight and added to bath water, is a soothing body soak for rheumatism or arthritis.[Schofield]

Various Pacific Northwest native groups use devil's club decoctions as an external wash for boils and festering skin irritations (such as those caused by devil's club spines). Other treatments for infection include covering the wound with a paste made by mixing the root powder with water, and applying a poultice of hot, mashed roots. Pastes and poultices are also used for relieving pain and swelling from insect bites and stings. The effectiveness of such treatment was verified by a friend stung by a wasp while hiking; repeated applications of the mashed, boiled root quickly reduced both swelling and pain. If you're troubled by toothache on a camping trip, try chewing a piece of devil's club root until it is soft and pulpy, and placing this on the painful area.[Schofield]

During epidemics, devil's club root is burned as a smudge, or drunk as tea (with Labrador tea or clover roots).[Schofield]

Smoke: The Crow of North America mixed the roots with tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) to treat headache (Blankinship 1905). The species reported in the original texts was Fatsia horrida Benth & Hook. f. In British Columbia, Canada, the smoke of burning plants was used traditionally to drive away disease-causing spirits (Turner 1998).[UAPDS]

Steambath: The bark was used to prepare a steam bath for a person with pains in his body. Two different methods of preparation have been recorded. In one case, the spines were scorched off four pieces of devil's club and the bark boiled for a day with peucedanum seeds (Lomatium nudicaule). The hot fluid was then poured into a box, and the patient was made to sit over the steam, wrapped in a blanket, until he was perspiring heavily. Afterwards dry clothing was put on, and the patient soon got better (Boas, 1930). In the second case, the bark was boiled in sea water mixed with urine, and after steaming for a while the patient was rubbed dry with shredded cedar bark, which was then buried on a main path or street where people would walk over it. The disease would lose its power after this treatment (Boas, 1966). [Turner&Bell2]


Northwest tribes believed devil's club kept evil spirits away, so they built lodges for their medicine men out of its wood and used its charcoal as protective face paint.[Berries] This plant was used by almost every Indian tribe from Oregon to Alaska, and was comparable to Veratrum in its value as a protective charm (Haskin, 1934). [Turner&Bell1] A protective charm was made of devil's club stem (see Veratrum). [Turner&Bell2]

In southeast Alaska, Tlingit shamans underwent initiations that involved a wilderness solo and a devil's club fast. Haida hunters, about to embark on expeditions, traditionally bathed in root decoctions; they also ingested the root decocted in salt water or seal oil in order to provoke vomiting and cleanse the system. [Schofield]

According to legend, Tlingit use began when a shaman observed bears wallowing in devil's club roots to soothe their wounds. Many Indian folktales record how the fleeing hero, when in distress, throws behind him some prickly object, which, by his magic, becomes changed into an impassable tangle of devil's club in which the pursuing enemy becomes entangled and sadly torn.[Schofield]

Devil's club is still regarded as a protective force in some localities. Placed above doorways and on fishing boats or worn as an amulet, it's said to ward off evil. Shamans often wore necklaces of the root laced with spruce and had purification huts woven from devil's club stems. When treating illness, they traditionally touched the affected area with their devil's club charm, or had the sick individual jump through a devil's club hoop.[Schofield]

Devil's club was used ceremonially to end periods of bad weather or bad luck.[Schofield] Inner bark chewed during pre-hunting purification rituals.[Gottesfeld, Leslie]



Devil's club contains glycosides (including araliasides and panaxosides) and essential oils (nerolidol, cedrol). It is classified as an herbal adaptogen, i.e., it affects the body's hypothalmic-pituitary axis, thus modifying stress response. [Schofield]

"A range of diynes, including the known antibiotics falcarinol and falcaridiol and two more new analogs were isolated in a bioassay-directed fractionation of the extracts of the inner bark and roots of Oplopanax horridus (devil’s club), which are used by the First Nations peoples of North America for a number ailments including tuberculosis. All these compounds inhibited the growth of M. tuberculosis and M. avium at 10 µg per disk loading in a disk diffusion assay [27]." [ModPhyt]

Root bark – Constituents; hydrophobic constituents. Falcarindiol – Anti-proliferative vs. Human Breast adenocarcinoma (MCF-7) [Rai MPBD]


"Medicinal shrubs such as devilsclub (Oplopanax horridus) were... selectively harvested. At least recently, Aboriginal harvesters... have started replanting lengths of devilsclub stem in the damp soil every time they remove part of the plant; the stems root easily and thus continue to regenerate." [FCTM USDA]

"Requires a cool moist soil[11, 200]. Prefers a position in light shade[182]. Prefers dense shade and is probably best if grown in moist woodland[1, 11]. Tolerates maritime exposure[200]. (Rather a strange report for a plant that needs to be grown in dense shade[K]). A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to at least -15oc, but the young shoots in spring can be damaged by late frosts[11, 200]. It is therefore best not grown in a frost pocket[182]. This species was until recently considered to have its range in N. America and Japan, but the Japanese form has now been separated off into its own species as O. japonicus[200]. A very ornamental plant, but it is densely armed with spikes[60]. It transplants easily and also tolerates pruning[200]. The leaves and stems are excessively spiny[182]."[PFAF]


"Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn[200]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division of suckers in the dormant season. Root cuttings in a greenhouse in the winter[188]." [PFAF]

Uses of Related Sp.

Oplopanax elatus (Nakai) Nakai - Ci Seng;


  1. [E-flora] Oplopanax horridus,, In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2015. E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 28/08/2016 2:25:03 AM ]
  2. [PFAF] Oplopanax horridus,, PFAF, Accessed Aug 28, 2016
  3. [UMD-Eth] Oplopanax horridus,, Accessed Aug 28, 2016

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