|Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus, Araliaceae) is a large shrub native to the Pacific Northwest coastal forests of North America. Also known as Devil's Walking Stick, it grows to 1-1.5 m tall normally; however, instances exist of it reaching in excess of 5m in rainforest gullies, with the erect stems covered in short, stout spines. The spines are also found along the upper and lower surfaces of veins of its leaves. The leaves are spirally arranged on the stems, simple, palmately lobed with 5-13 lobes, 20-40 cm across. The flowers are produced in dense umbels 10-20 cm diameter, each flower small, with five greenish-white petals. The fruit is a small red drupe 4-7 mm diameter. The species was once included in the closely related genus Fatsia as Fatsia horrida.
The brittle spines break off easily and contain a chemical that may cause dermatitis. The fruit is considered poisonous, although it (and other plant parts) have been used for medicinal purposes by several tribes in the Pacific Northwest and up into the Yukon and Alaska. • In Sitka, Alaska, one of the most revered members of the community is the thorny devil's club. But the plant's popularity as a medicinal may endanger its sacred role in Tlingit culture. NPR's Ketzel Levine reports. Morning Edition, August 11, 2004 The Tlingit have turned to devil's club for a list of ailments you wouldn't wish on an enemy: from coughs and colds to stomach ulcers, tuberculosis and hypoglycemia. Tribe members steep it into teas, mash it into salves, chew, sip and steam it. It's also used to ward off evil. The plant, dubbed the "Tlingit aspirin" has not been approved for medicinal use by the Food and Drug Administration. In a report for npr.org, Levine describes the devil's club characteristics and native habitats: Devil's club, or Oplopanax horridus, is a plant with an unmistakable presence. It has leaves like palm fronds, spines like daggers and red fruit that's candy for bears. It sticks its long neck out as far south as Oregon, and to the east, has even surprised a few Michigan hikers with its cloak of vicious thorns. But the plant is perhaps most common to the bear, deer and salmon habitats of Alaska's Tongass National Forest.
The Native Americans of the region regarded it as a sacred plant, using it for both ritual and herbal medicine. One known use was for diabetes.
To prepare devil's club tea, harvest lengths of the grey prickly stalk. Caution: Plants should only be harvested in the spring before flowering and in the fall after flowers have withered. The plant is toxic when flowering. Using a knife, scrape the stalk to remove the spines and bark to expose the green layer in between the wood and the bark. This greenery is where the medicine is. (It will not harm your drink if you get pieces of the bark or the wood in it -- it will merely alter the taste.) Using the knife, cut the green layer off and let dry. Steep for two to three hours for a light tea; or, for a darker tea, for as long as 24 hours. Strong devil's club tea has been used as an emergency stimulant in Alaska. It seems to work well, but foul taste precludes recreational use.