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. The plant is used as a healing tea, salve, or ointment.
Alaskan Ginseng Makes Tea and Salves
Considered an herb, devil's club was dubbed Alaskan ginseng since it's related to American ginseng. The root and root bark are used to make teas, ointments, and salves, but the tiny thorns covering the plant make it difficult to harvest.
Devil's Club Salve Modern Uses
Studies from the 1930s, 1991, and more recent ones found devil's club relieves arthritic symptoms. People from First Nations consider devil's club a medicinal and spiritual plant. It is used to treat common joint pain, but the ailment list doesn't stop there.
The following conditions and symptoms have historically been treated with devil's club salve:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Diaper rash
- Insect bites
- Minor cuts and burns
- Muscular aches and pains
- Poison ivy or sumac
- Restless leg syndrome
- Stiff neck
Healing Properties of Devil's Club Salves, Tinctures, and Extracts
The National Institutes of Health examined multiple studies conducted on the internal effects of root bark extracts that proved to have antibacterial properties, successful in the treatment of tuberculosis and leprosy and internal infections, such a lung. Anticancer studies found root bark extract was an effective inhibitor of several cancers, including ovarian, breast, colon, and other types of cancers.
DIY 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, Monterey Bay Spice Company sells wild crafted, cut, and sifted root bark in quarter-pound amounts for $20 or $50 per pound.
Harvest Devil's Club Root Bark
According to Tlingit elder Helen Watkins, devil's club is best harvested in the Spring. She advises to select 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.
Gather What You Need to Make the Salve
- Jars with lids
- Wire mesh sieve/strainer
- Deep pot
- Beeswax (or coconut oil solids)
- Wooden spoon to stir
- Olive oil
- Small funnel to fill small jars
- Slow cooker
- Essential oil(s) your choice
- Vitamin E liquid capsules
First, Make Devil's Club 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, 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.
Make the Salve From the Oil
To create the salve, Elder Watkins states you'll need to strain the oil from the jar, first using a wire mesh sieve, and then using cheesecloth to squeeze the remaining oil from the bark into a deep pot.
- Over medium to low heat, add beeswax (you may substitute with solid coconut oil). Allow the wax/oil to melt into the bark oil mixture.
- Add vitamin E capsules (at your discretion, optional).
- Add 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.
Where to Buy
Salve and ointments are best for topical conditions; however, devil's club extract is another popular herbal choice used to prevent muscular aches and pains and other ailments.
Sitka Center for Devil's Club Industry
Sitka is the center for the devil's club industry. Some of these Alaskan companies producing devil's club salve include:
- Back Bay Botanicals sells a 2 ounce jar of devil's club soothing rub for around $14 plus $7 shipping fee. The salve contains devil's club, calendula, plantain, comfrey, wormwood, poplar, organic olive oil, beeswax, vitamin E, and pure essential oils. The company uses only organically grown and wild-craft herbs.
- Birch Grove features a devil's club salve made from the bark and infused in olive oil with organic Alaskan beeswax added. A 2 ounce tin costs around $14.00 with free shipping.
- Maiden Alaska Herbs offers Alaskan wild and organic ingredients, devil's club, wormwood, yarrow, usnea, olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax, vitamin E oil, cedarwood. Prices: 1/2 ounce costs around $6.25, 2 ounces costs around $13.50, and 4 ounces costs around $25. Shipping options are offered at time of checkout.
Devil's Club Salve Benefits
There are countless benefits to using devil's club salve, such as soothing aching muscles and skin rashes. Whether you make your own salve or purchase from one of the Sitka companies, devil's club salve remains a popular choice for pain relief.