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Devil's Club

Devil's Club

Botanical Description & Habitat

Opolopanax horridum, Echinopanax horridum, Fatsia horrida.

Family:

Araliaceae.

Habitat
Rainforests of S.E. Alaska, British Columbia and Olympic peninsula of Washington state.

Description

Forms an impenatrable thicket up to 100 miles inland from the coast. It has a densely thorned stem and greenish-white flowers appear in June. Scarlet berries arrive in late summer.

Medicinal Parts
Aerial parts, especially the bark

Historical Properties & Uses

Devil's club was, and still is, to a certain extent, an important medicine of the Northwest Indians. It was boiled, and the infusion drunk for a cold, or used as wash for the pain of rheumatism.

It was considered a remedy for general debilitation and as source of strength and resistance to disease. It was sometimes used to try to cure pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Devil's club could also be a purgative and emetic is chewed long enough. Indian women used it in the regulation of menstruation following childbirth, to suppress lactation and for menstrual cramps.

Devil's club was considered so effective a cure it often took on magical connotations. It was perhaps the most important medicinal and magical plant of all, being closely associated with the shaman, who wore bundles of devil's club stems around his neck.

Devil's club was never considered much of a white man's medicine until all of the attention being certain important members of the aralia family, especially Panax ginseng and siberian ginseng, began to spill over onto other members of that family.

It is difficult to determine just how devil's club is used in Indian herbal medicine, but in a general sense it appears to be used for strengthening the general non-specific resistance of the body.

It attracts little contemporary interest.

Method of Action

Devil's Club has Nutritive Value
Some evidence for the nutritional value of devil's club roots can be ascertained by the common practice of young Indian braves, during rites of passage, surviving for several weeks by eating nothing but the root of devil's club.

Devil's Club May be a Good Source of Insulin
For a period of time following the 1930's, devil's club was studied as a possible commercial source of insulin. During that time it was shown devil's club extract could maintain the diabetic through a definite hypoglycemic action.

Devil's Club may have Adaptogenic Properties
As mentioned in the folklore section, the obscure devil's club belongs to the ginseng family. Therefore, it is tempting to assume it has some of the same attributes. If this is ever proven, devil's club may become an important source for adaptogens.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Devil's claw, due to its cathartic activity, may potentiate anticoagulant therapy by reducing absorption of vitamin K from the gut. It may also inhibit absorption of dextrose from the intestines.

This cathartic may increase intestinal transit time of digitalis glycosides, inhibit their absorption and cardiac action. But cathartic-induced hypokalmia increases toxicity and potency of absorbed digitalis. Cathartic-induced hypokalemia potentiates muscle relaxants.

In addition to the specific interactions listed, the cathartic action of this herb tend to hasten the passage of all oral medications through the gut and thereby inhibit their action.

In sub-laxative and sub-emetic doses this herb should have no drug interactions. At higher doses, interactions similar to those involving diuretics and cathartics may occur.

Possible Interactions
Laxative-induced diarrhea may result in decreased absorption of isoniazid the same is true with sulfisoxazole, but it appears to be a clinically unimportant interaction effect.

The antacid nature of this herb may decrease or delay the absorption of nalidixic acid and the sulfonamides.

Due to the spasmolytic nature of devil's claw it may interact in unknown ways with CNS depressants or stimulants.

Comments
Laxative induced increased speed of intestinal emptying may result in decreased absorption of vitamin K and/or anticoagulants.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

No data on toxicology of devil's club is available, other than ethnobotanical data suggesting large doses may be emetic and purgative.

The berries are considered inedible (toxic by some).

Preparation & Administration

Dosage specifications for devil's club have not been determined or standardized. Follow manufacturers' recommendations.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.

References

Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Dec, 1993.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Piccoli, LJ et al., A pharmacologic study of devil's club root. J Am. Pharm. Ass. 1940, 29:11.