Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus) is a medicinal plant used for pain relief. It's found growing in the Pacific Northwest and the Alaskan mountain regions. This versatile plant will grow under most soils condition and can survive temperatures as low as -20°F.
Devil's club was dubbed Alaskan ginseng since it's related to American ginseng. The root and bark make teas, ointments, and salves, but the tiny thorns covering the plant make it challenging to harvest. Learn about the modern uses of devil's club and how to make devil's club salve for yourself.
Devil's Club Salve Benefits and Uses
People from First Nations consider devil's club a medicinal and spiritual plant. It is sometimes used to treat common joint pain. A 2018 study published in Evidenced-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that devil's club can relieve arthritic symptoms. The study also found that different parts of the plant are used to treat varying illnesses.
For example, the root is shown to have antibacterial properties to deal with conditions like leprosy and tuberculosis. The inner bark has antifungal properties that can be used against nine different fungal species. Anticancer studies found root bark extract was an effective inhibitor of several cancers, including ovarian, breast, colon, leukemia, and other types of cancers.
But the benefits and potential uses don't end there. The following conditions and symptoms have historically been treated with devil's club salve among native tribes, according to the 2018 study.
- Body pains
- Sore throats
- Stomach aches
- Swollen glands
How to Make Devil's Club Salve
There are several ways you can approach making your own devil's club salve. If you live in the Pacific Northwest or Alaska regions where devil's club grows wild, you can harvest what you need. If you prefer to purchase the root bark, some distributors sell wild crafted, cut, and sifted root bark.
Step 1: Harvest Devil's Club
According to Nisqually Community Garden, devil's club is best harvested in the spring. Additionally, Tlingit Elder Helen Watkins advises selecting plants growing near water for the best bark. Watkins states a small stalk takes just as much effort to remove the bark as a large stalk, so you should focus on harvesting the largest and thickest stalks. Be sure to wear gloves since the plant is covered in thorns. Cut the stalk at the base of the plant close to the ground.
Step 2: Gather Salve Ingredients
Now that you've gathered your devil's club, it's time to grab a few supplies for making the salve. These supplies are going to help you to create and store your salve.
- Beeswax (or coconut oil solids)
- Deep pot
- Essential oil(s) of your choice
- Jars with lids
- Olive oil
- Slow cooker
- Small funnel to fill small jars
- Vitamin E liquid capsules
- Wire mesh sieve/strainer
- Wooden spoon to stir
Step 3: Make Devil's Club Oil
Prior to creating your devil's club oil, you need to take a knife and scrape the needles. You'll then peel the green bark off to make your oil. Elder Watkins advises using scissors to cut the harvested bark strips into 1-inch to 2-inch strips.
- Fill a pint or quart jar with the bark, leaving a 1-inch headspace.
- Add organic virgin olive oil (use extra virgin if preferred) and completely cover the bark strips.
- Place the lid and ring on the jar, tightening the ring.
- Set the jar in a slow cooker filled with water (water should be about 2" above the jar).
- Set to medium heat and leave overnight.
- Remove the processed jar.
Step 4: Make the Salve
To create the salve, Elder Watkins states you'll need to strain the oil from the jar.
- First, use a wire mesh sieve, and then use cheesecloth to squeeze the oil from the bark into a deep pot.
- Over medium to low heat, add about a quarter to a half cup of shaved beeswax (you may substitute with solid coconut oil). The more beeswax you add the stiffer it will be.
- Allow the wax/oil to melt into the bark oil mixture.
- Add vitamin E capsules (at your discretion, optional).
- Add 5-10 drops of any essential oils you desire (lavender, rosemary, etc, as much as desired).
- Stir until the oils are blended.
- Using a small funnel, fill jars and add lids.
- Your salves are now ready to use whenever needed.
Devils Club Safety and Contraindications
While devil's club can make a beneficial salve, the berries produced by devil's club are poisonous to humans. Therefore, you do not want to eat them. Additionally, since information regarding devil's club salve is limited, you'll want to talk to your healthcare provider before adding it to your healing regimen.