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Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Botanical Description & Habitat

Symplocarpus foetidus


Common names

CollardMeadow cabbage
Polecat weedSkunk weed
Swamp cabbage

Indigenous perennial plant found in meadows, swamps, and damp places throughout the northern and central areas of the United States.

Has a large, tuberous rootstock producing numerous, crowded, oblong, strongly veined leaves. Small purple flowers grow on fleshy spikes before the leaves appear. They are covered by a purple and yellowish-green, hood-like bract, and bloom from February to April.

Medicinal parts
Root and rootstock, fresh, collected in autumn or early spring, aged rapidly; seeds, keep medicinal qualities longer than roots.

Historical Properties & Uses

Skunk cabbage roots and rootstocks exhibit antispasmodic and expectorant properties. They are used specifically for respiratory ailments. Whooping cough, hay fever, and asthma respond well to treatment with skunk cabbage.

Method of Action

Skunk cabbage contains tyramine and histamine and probably related substances which could account for its respiratory effects. No studies have been directly addressed to this property.

The root may have antibacterial properties; it has exhibited good action against mycobacterium tuberculosis, but hasn't been screened for other properties.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Since skunk cabbage's diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, the herb may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuricemic effects of glucose-elevating agents.

Diuretics in general may potentiate the action of antihypertensive, ganglionic or peripheral adrenergic blocking drugs, tubocurarine and, to a lesser degree, norepinephrine.

Possible Interactions
The sympathomimetic action of the uterine relaxant ritodrine HCl and the vasoconstricting property of this skunk cabbage are additive. The pressor effect of this sympathomimetic agent may be markedly potentiated by monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI's) and tricyclic antidepressants.

The use of skunk cabbage in obstetrics (i.e., to correct hypotension) in conjunction with oxytocic drugs may produce hypertension. Skunk cabbage should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants. Furthermore, additive pressor effects may occur when using skunk cabbage with the analeptic doxapram HCl.

Colchicine may increase sensitivity or enhance the response to the herb. Concurrent administration of amounts of skunk cabbage and procarbazine antineoplastic drugs may induce a sudden hypertensive crisis.

It should also be noted the use of diuretics may require dosage adjustments of antidiabetic drugs. In addition, the diuretic action of the herb may reduce renal clearance of lithium.

Although not a likely interaction, the presence of tyramine and/or tryptophan in skunk cabbage could produce hypertension if a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) is also being used.

The neuromuscular relaxing action of skunk cabbage may be enhanced by the use of certain aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as clindamycin.

In the absence of other hard data, it may still be assumed observable interactions may occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in this herb.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Some individuals may be allergic to skunk cabbage, and fresh plant can be very caustic.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day
Watch for allergy

Powdered rhizome or root
0.5-1 grams

made from 1/4 tsp powdered rhizome or root

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.5-1 ml

1:10 in 45% alcohol, 2-4 ml

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.


Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Blackwell. 1963. Hypertensive crisis due to monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. Lancet, 2. pp. 849-857.

Bloomley, D.J. 1964. Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. Lancet 2.

Bressler, R., M. Bogdonoff & G. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Chambers, G., R. Kerry & G. Owen. 1977. Lithium used with a diuretic. British Medical Journal, 2. pp. 805-806.

Chiles, V.K. 1968. Drug interactions and the pharmacist. Canadian Pharaceutical Journal, 101(7). pp. 241-247.

Clark, T.H., A.H. Conney & B.P. Harpole, et.al. 1967. Drug interactions that can affect your patients. Patient Care, 1(11). pp. 33-71.

Chasroff, I.J. & J.W. Ellis. 1983. Family Medical Guide, William Morrow & Co. Inc., pub. 594 pp.

Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.

De Martinis, M., et.al. Milk thistle (silybum marianum) derivatives in the therapy of chronic hepatopathies. Clin. Ter., 94(3). pp. 283-315. 1980.

Dollery, C.T. 1965. Physiological and pharmacological interactions of antihypertensive drugs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 58(11). pp. 983-987.

Drug package insert (FDA approved official brochure) and other labeling based on sponsored clinical investigations and New Drug Application data.

Elis, Laurence, et.al. Modification by monoamine oxidase inhibitors of the effect of some sympathomimetics on blood pressure. Brit Med J, 2. p.75.

Fitzpatrick, F. Plant substances active against mycobacterium tuberculosis. Antibiotics And Chemotherapy, 4(5), 528-536, 1954.

Foldes, F.F., J.N. Lunn & H. Benz. 1963. Prolonged respiratory depression caused by drug combinations. Muscle relaxants and intraperitoneal antibiotics as etiologic agents. JAMA. 183(2). pp. 672-673.

Gathercoal, E. & Wirth. 1949. Pharmacognosy. Lea & Febiger Publ. Phila.

Goldner, Zarowitz & Akgun. Hyperglycemia and glycosuria due to thiazide derivatives administered in diabetes mellitus. NE J of Med, 262(Feb 2).

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.

Hansten, P. 1968. Antidiabetic drug interactions. Hosp. Form. Mgmnt, 4(2).

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hurtig, H.I. & W.L. Dyson. 1974. Lithium toxicity enhanced by diuresis. New England J of Med, 290(Mar 28). pp. 748-749.

Hussar, D.A. 1969. Tabular compilation of drug interactions. Am Journal of Pharmacy, 141(7-8). pp. 109-156.

Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks, England, 1983

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Lutz, E.G. 1975. Lithium toxicity precipitated by diuretics. J of Med Soc of NJ, 72(5). pp. 439-440.

Mann, A. & J. Hutchison. 1967. Manic reaction associated with procarbazine hydrocholoride therapy of Hodgkin's disease. Canadian Med Assoc J, 97. pp. 1350-1353.

Martin, E. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Co., Phila.

Miller, R.D., et.al. 1976. Enhancement of d-tubocurarine neuromuscular blockage by diuretics in man. Anesth, 45. p.442.

Miller & Lindeman. Red Blood Cell and Serum Selenium Concentration as Influenced by Age and Selected Diseases. J Of Am College Nutri, 2 (1983).

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.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983

Shepherd, M. 1965. Psychotropic drugs (1). Interaction between centrally acting drugs in man: some general considerations. Clinly important examples of drug interaction. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 58(11). pp. 964-967.

Tuttle, C.B. 1969. Drug interactions. Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, 22(5-6). pp. 2-15.

Warner, W.A. & E. Saunders. 1971. Neuromuscular blockade associated with gentamicin therapy. JAMA, 215. pp. 1153-1154.


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