Herbal Chronicles: Devil's Club

by Maranda Johnson

The Thorny Healer
Getting know Devil's Club

Devil's Club for Cottonwood Creek

Deep in the heart of the mountains in Northwest Montana, there thrives a plant that commands both respect and curiosity. Known as Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), this formidable shrub is as much a part of the forest’s lore as it is a beacon of natural medicine.

Devil's Club

A Brief History

Ancient Roots and Geographical Spread: Devil’s Club is native to the Pacific Northwest, including parts of Alaska, and is also found on islands in Lake Superior. This large understory shrub is known for its distinctive large palmate leaves and woody stems covered in sharp spines. It has a “primordial” appearance, suggesting its ancient origins and long-standing presence in these forest ecosystems.

Cultural Significance and Traditional Uses: The plant has been used ceremonially by indigenous peoples such as the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida residing in Southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia. A piece of Devil’s Club hung over a doorway is believed to ward off evil, and its charcoal has been used for protective face paints, symbolically linking them to the spirit world.
The first ethnographic record of Devil’s Club use dates back to 1842, when it was reported that the Tlingit used Devil’s Club ash as a treatment for sores. Since then, it has been widely documented for its medicinal, spiritual, and technological uses.

Ecological Role and Reproduction: Devil’s Club reproduces by forming clonal colonies through rhizomes, which means what appears to be several different plants may actually be clones from a single original plant. This slow-growing plant takes many years to reach seed-bearing maturity, making it sensitive to human impact as it does not reproduce quickly.

Contemporary Relevance: Today, Devil’s Club continues to be valued for its medicinal properties and is a subject of interest for both traditional and modern medicine. Its historical uses range from treating arthritis and tuberculosis to serving as a base for tattoo ink.
The history of Devil’s Club is a testament to its resilience and the deep connection between nature and culture. It stands as a symbol of the wisdom and traditions of the indigenous peoples who have long understood and utilized its properties. As we learn more about this plant, we gain insights into the rich tapestry of human-plant relationships that have shaped our world.

Our shop in Bigfork, MT

Devil's Club: Traditional Uses

The Devil's Club isn't just another plant with a scary name. It's a legend in the Pacific Northwest, used by indigenous cultures for centuries. Here's why it's so special:

  • Spiritual Bodyguard: Forget garlic for vampires! Those sharp spikes were believed to ward off evil spirits. People would hang Devil's Club over doorways like a "No Bad Vibes Allowed" sign. Shamans even built special huts with Devil's Club to prepare for important rituals, creating a magical force field to keep out anything unwanted.

    If you have ever had the chance to visit our shop in Bigfork, Montana, you might have noticed this bundle of sticks hanging over the doorway to our kitchen. These are devil's club stalks! Our little nod to ancient traditions, can't hurt, right!?

  • Natural Medicine Cabinet: Feeling under the weather? The Tlingit tribe had a Devil's Club remedy for that! They used it as a tea, salve, or even chewed it raw to fight coughs, colds, stomachaches, and even serious illnesses like tuberculosis. Modern research suggests it might also be helpful for pain, arthritis, and even diabetes.
  • Beyond Medicine: Devil's Club wasn't just for the medicine bag. People fashioned it into cool stuff like protective charms, walking sticks, and even fishing lures. It was so versatile! The powdered bark became a natural deodorant, while mashed berries got hair squeaky clean. And the charcoal from burnt Devil's Club? It transformed into face paint for dancers, adding a touch of mystery and toughness.

So, Devil's Club is more than just a prickly plant. It's a symbol of protection, a natural medicine chest, and a reminder of the ingenuity of indigenous cultures!

Devil's Club for Muscle Pain

Devil's Club: Today's Benefits

  • Antibacterial and antifungal properties: Devil's Club contains chemicals that may help fight bacteria and fungi. These properties may be beneficial for wound healing and treating infections.
  • Anticancer properties: Some studies suggest that Devil's Club may have anticancer properties. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Devil's Club may also have anti-inflammatory properties. This may be helpful for conditions like arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Immune system support: Some people believe that Devil's Club can help boost the immune system. However, more research is needed to confirm this benefit.
  • Pain relief: Devil's Club may also help relieve pain. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties

Cottonwood Creak

  It's because of those great pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits that we use this plant in our aches & pain salve, Cottonwood Creek.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐" I’m a runner, and I love having this muscle rub on hand for all aches and pains. Smells woodsy and warm!" - Stacy

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "Love this salve, my hands have been in a lot of pain (from yard work and strained muscles). I rubbed this on before going to bed and woke up with zero pain! It also smells amazing, very woodsy :)" - Susanne

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "I love this product!!!! It relaxes me And it helps with my pain! I have a few herniated discs in my neck and degenerative disc disease with arthritis and this stuff is awesome! It has arnica which is a wonder plant!" - Cindy 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ " I am a 68 year old male and Cottonwood Creek lets me do the things I want, even when I know they might hurt, because I can get relief in short order. I had shoulder surgery a few years ago and it provides relief there for when I overdo things, which is always, and my clumsy feet also always need special attention at the end of a long day. Good stuff!"How We Gather Devil's Club

How we Harvest Devil's Club

Click the video above and go on a wildcrafting adventure with us and see what it takes to collect and process Devil's Club to go into our muscle salve, Cottonwood Creek!