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Devil's Club Opplopanax Horridus : The thread!  RSS feed

 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1220
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I figure that there should be a thread dedicated strictly to Devil's Club, and so this is it.

Any plant named after clubbing the Devil is way too cool not to showcase.

Where it thrives, it is one of the most highly regarded plants among First Nations Peoples. There are so many ailments that Devil's Club was used for by Native North American's (Particularly of the Northwest Coast), that I hesitate to mention them all for fear of over-harvesting by reckless entrepreneurs. In some areas it was harvested to near extinction due to it's use in attempting to cure people during the disease epidemics that resulted after contact with European Cultures. There is quite a lot of good information on the internet pertaining to Devil's Club, and listing all of it's many potential uses, so I will not go into these details here. Primarily these days, it is used ceremonially (spiritually), and for treating type 2 diabetes.

Traditionally this plant (primarily the cambium [inner] bark) was used in a number of different ways including infusions (teas), decoctions (boiling), steaming and inhaling, drying and powdering for a baby talc or perfume/deodorant, a topical (rubbed in) application, in a bath, as a poultice, and as a dried plant part hung up as a protective charm.

I have a lot of respect for this plant, and anybody who has ended up in a large patch of it will quickly develop a respect (although often grudgingly) to this tall spiny shrub that often grows in intertwined groves that can be well over an adult's head.

The plant books often mention it growing to three meters, but I have seen it taller. The stems can be many inches across at the base, but are most often around two inches, narrowing to an inch or so at the top of the woody stem.

Entering the patch: A devil's club plant grows in a non linear fashion. Although there is a vertical nature to the plant, there is also a semi-horizontal nature, primarily in or near the soil/moss interface. This horizontal or angled part of the plant connecting the aerial (above ground) parts of the plant to the roots, can be very easy to trip on, and so it is advisable to enter the grove slowly. If one trips in a Devil's Club grove it is quite probable that a person will reach out and grab one of it's extremely spiny vertical stalks (ouch times several hundred!). It is also possible for the plant to club you as a literal reaction to having one of it's springy roots stepped on. If the leaves are in full blast bigness (And they are huge!), what I do is place my palm on the top of the leaf (the bottoms have some spines), and gently use it to push the plant stalk away from me, and then, while stepping, reaching with my other hand, do the same with then next plant, and thus sort of swim into the grove. With care and attention, it can be a very beautiful experience.

When I was a child, I had no idea why this plant was called Devil's Club, and thought that because it came out of the earth (and Hell was down there somewhere) and it tended to swing at me when I was bumbling through a patch, I thought the devil was clubbing me! What I now understand about the name of the plant is more along the lines of it clubbing the Devil (illness) out of someone (or an evil influence from a space where it's charms are placed).

The latin name Opplopanax Horridus is derived from two Greek words: hoplon, meaning weapon and panakos meaning panacea (a cure all), and
Horridus is specifically about being
horrible or frightening which refers to the plant being covered by thorns (or perhaps it's use to scare off evil or diseases).

I have had a small introduction to this plant's medicine through a third year university course First Nation's Health and Healing, which I had the honor of being a part of (and be admitted to without the pre-requisites) through a UNBC extension campus in Terrace, B.C.. In the plant section of the course (about 1/3 of the course body), we studied the top ten medicine plants native to the area. That part of the course was primarily theory/academic, but we did have a sample of the most common medicinal uses of many of the plants, including a strong decoction of Devil's Club root cambium. I have also sampled a tincture, used it similar to chewing tobacco (only once: a small amount of the stem cambium), eaten the spring green bullet like buds raw in moderation, and sampled the berries (which are not at all a berry to eat for dessert!) and only a few, ever.

I will be cross referencing this thread with the other Devil's Club mentionings in the Permies forums, and possibly bringing some of the posts over to this one.

Anybody with any experience at all with Devil's Club, please feel free to add to the knowledge base.











 
Christine Wilcox
Posts: 57
Location: Los Anchorage, near Alaska
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Devil’s club has a rich history in Alaskan native medicinal traditions and in use by the early pioneers. There is one small oddity that I can share relating to the taste perceptions. Harvesting some of the spring buds for an omelet or soup is a tradition in my household. Apparently, different individuals differ in their ability to taste the ginseng like essential oils in the bud, which are probably nerolidol or cerdol. This used to get me crazy looks from my husband, when I would expound on the wonderful flavors in the bud. In talking to Verna Pratt, who is the living master of all things related to central Alaskan flowers and plants, she noted this human variation seems fairly common. It is similar to the ability of some cats to taste catnip while others are indifferent. I will be interested to hear how many of the users perceive the strong ginseng flavor of the buds.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1220
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Apparently, different individuals differ in their ability to taste the ginseng like essential oils in the bud, which are probably nerolidol or cerdol.
Do you think that the people can't taste it, or that they can't appreciate it?

I find that many people in general have a hard time with the unfamiliar. I used to have a dislike for grapefruit, but it may be because I never really gave it a chance. But then I started to get into bitter greens, and I tried a grapefruit and it was amazingly full of different flavors. The bitterness was such a small part of it, but it was something that I had to appreciate in order to understand the rest.

Now with Devil's Club, it has a very unique taste, similar to ginseng (which it is related to), but I'd say unique, and I would also say an acquired taste for many who might have a less refined or experienced palette.

 
Christine Wilcox
Posts: 57
Location: Los Anchorage, near Alaska
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Hi Roberto,
Thanks for your interesting thoughts on this issue. I agree with you that many (most) North Americans have developed a limited food palate but I think this could be something that is a little more interesting. I won’t suggest that my husband has “refined” taste, since he even claims to like pushki and there is little he won’t eat. He perceives the devil’s club shoots as a mild spring green but nothing special, while I loved the taste from the first bite and need to curb the foraging greed this triggers. (I teach foraging in a number of local programs, and I stress responsible and sustainable harvest, so this leaves me conflicted on some forays, but I do behave ) It sounds like the taste experience for you is even more intense and sophisticated. I would have not given this much though, if Verna Pratt, who is something of a legend in our little corner of world noted this as well.

Cultural aspects of flavor and acquired taste aside, there is likely a wide variation in taste perception based on the repertoire of olfactory receptors that we inherit and our general health as we age.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olfactory_receptor

This probably applies to many other foods and flavors. Different groups may also have had selection for certain sensitivities where either sensitivity or insensitivity to certain taste can have survival benefits and some of this may arise at the level of taste perception. I still think that Devil’s club may provide an example of this rich human variation.

To return to the topic of the thread, I can recommend the Devil’s club buds highly and have experimented with harvest on my own land where moderate bud removal has not resulted in any apparent loss of vigor of the plants, since the plant has considerable potential for re-budding from proximal sites.

Christine
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1220
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Hi Christine, I had never really considered the line of inquiry that you are enlightening me on. I will have to look into it at some point soon. Thanks for the link. You are lucky to have a resource like Verna Pratt in your neck of the woods. On that subject a friend of mine finds the buds too strong to really enjoy in any really abundant harvest. He likens it to spruce tips which he enjoys but could not make a meal of.

As for Devil's Club harvest, I should say that the harvest of the buds is unlikely to cause much harm (as a one time, or occasional occurrence) to a plant such as this. The quantity of growth (and leaf size) that arises from this one small point has always blown me away, and I doubt that nipping it off once in a while to any given plant (similar to harvesting young stinging nettles) is going to make any significant difference to it's vigor. Unless someone is harvesting the same plant repeatedly in the same year, I doubt that there would be an issue, but I tend to give any given grove a rest from harvest, leaving it a year, or sometimes two, so that it can live free of my foraging frenzies. I understand the greed that you describe. To me it is something like a gold-rush fever that I have to nip in the bud, or it can get out of control.

I have taught some workshops myself, and try to stress the ethics of the particular harvest, as well as an awareness to the sensitive environment which these plants live in.

My concern with over-harvesting is due to people going for the strong medicine from the root bark which is can be fatal to the plant.

 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1220
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
78
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Today I have been reading This very interesting homeopathic link about Devil's Club.
 
Tyler Miller
Posts: 115
Location: Trapper Creek, AK (3a)
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Christine Wilcox wrote:He perceives the devil’s club shoots as a mild spring green but nothing special

I tried them for the first time last year and that's what they seemed like to me. I need to try them a few more times before making up my mind though. Also, I think they were getting a little too big and the spines were starting to form, as they were really crunchy.

Here's a picture I took last year with the light hitting the devil's club just right. It's a beautiful plant.

Direct link to larger image
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Hi Tyler.  Thanks for your post. 
I think they were getting a little too big and the spines were starting to form, as they were really crunchy.
  I have peeled the outer layer of the tips to expose just the soft inner morsel.  Usually spiny layers can be removed easily from my experience.
 
Tyler Miller
Posts: 115
Location: Trapper Creek, AK (3a)
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:I have peeled the outer layer of the tips to expose just the soft inner morsel.  Usually spiny layers can be removed easily from my experience.

Thanks for the tip, I'll have to try it.
 
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