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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog


Devil's Club

Large shrub possesses host of medicinal properties that Native Americans have tapped for centuries

Story ran on Malibu Times Blog, May 17, 2013

Many Pacific plants have tremendous compounds to ward off fungal and bacterial infections. There may, however, be none stronger than coastal Pacific devil’s club.

Devil’s club is a rather prehistoric looking single-stemmed plant covered head-to-toe in armor with three-quarter-inch spines on its stem, leaf base and leaves. Its spine will cause severe skin irritation. It can grow 20 feet high with 14-inch leaves resembling a big leaf maple. It has small whitish flowers and reproduces from bright red berries or root layering, which is a natural form of clonal propagation.

Devil’s club occurs throughout the Pacific Northwest on moist, but well drained, rich forested ecosystems. It’s a member of the same family as Asian and Siberian ginseng, but does not contain similar ginsenosides or the active compounds as its cousins do. Devil’s club does, on the other hand, have potent properties to successfully combat antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial and antimycobacterial agents. That’s why it is being tested to combat Esherichia coli, Staphyloccus aureus and Bacillius subtilis.

Native Americans have known about devil’s club and its other properties for thousands of years. They revere this plant, and for good reason, for both medicinal and spiritual applications. In fact, they used the inner stem bark to treat over 34 different physical ailments including broken bones, type II diabetes and cancers. Whole stems, berries, leaves and roots contain active compounds to boost the human immune system.

Native Americans believe that devil’s club protects them against supernatural entities, epidemics and evil influences. During certain ceremonies the extract of the red berries is painted on shaman’s faces. It is said to fill them with supernatural powers.

Devil’s club has been illegally marketed as Alaskan ginseng. Commercially available tinctures, teas and capsules that contain devil’s club extract are harvested from roots. Some producers unfortunately are trying to take advantage of false ginseng properties which, by the way, only come from roots.

Devil’s club is harvested from wild plants. It is difficult to cultivate and presently there are no commercial cultivations producing the plant.

Harvesting roots from wild stock for commercial use kills plants and is not a sustainable practice.

Currently devil’s club is being tested for treatment of tuberculosis and AIDS. Its many medicinal properties make it an exciting plant which potentially will offer hope to those afflicted with dreadful diseases.

Wild forests are filled with exquisite webs of life, and devil’s club, which is an indicator of a rich, fertile site is proof that our diverse temperate Pacific forests contain more than just giant, old trees that are the finest carbon dioxide warehouse to have ever evolved on planet Earth.

It is time to protect our ancient forests and their medicines; a moratorium on harvesting all remaining ancient forests in America must occur now.

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

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Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.


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