“Because it is such a fearsome plant in the path of the out-of-doorsman, the decided ornamental value of this plant is often overlooked. It merits a place in the garden, in a moist spot, where it can be seen but not necessarily encountered. The fruits are especially attractive” C. Hitchcock, A Cronquist, et al. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Vol.3
Devils club is another iconic Northwest damp forest species, with a range from Southern Alaska to Southern Oregon, and East just into into Montana. It also occurs in a disjunct population on several islands in Lake Superior. Here in the Puget Sound Lowlands, I tend to encounter it on seepy hillsides: shade, damp, and decent drainage.
Oplopanax, a member of the Aralaceae, is related to Panax (ginseng). There are also two species of Oplopanax native to Asia, which were once considered subspecies of O. horridus.
Oplopanax is a highly esteemed medicinal throughout its range, having multiple uses in both Native American and Asian medicine. Nancy Turner states that there are “13-15 separate etymons for it in more than 25 different languages,” showing the plant’s importance to many different cultures.
Perhaps because of its spiny nature and medicinal strength, devil’s club was credited with protective properties, and used for purification and spiritual cleansing.
It was also used to treat rhumatism, as a dermatological aid (including wound care), digestive upset, and tuberculosis. Some diabatics taking the extract have been able to maintain their health without resorting to insulin injections. An extract of Oplopanax japonicus is used in a cough suppressant. The lightweight wood was also made into fishing lures.
The young stalks can reportedly be steamed and eaten; Bears are reported to fancy the berries.
Turner, Nancy “Traditional Use of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus; Araliaceae) by Native Peoples in Western North America” in Journal of Ethnobiology v.1-2, 1981-1982
Hitchcock, A Cronquist, et al. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Vol. 3, 1961