Healing with Devil's Club
Coast Salish people have cultivated traditional plants and medicines for thousands of years.
Devil’s Club is also known as Oplopananx Horridium is found in cool, shady, and moist or wet areas such as damp forests and along streams. It is a thick deciduous shrub that can grow anywhere from 1 to 4 metres in height. It has spiny branches, and large leaves that look similar to maple. The shrub’s small, bright red berries grow in tall, pyramid shaped clusters although the berries are not edible to humans.
The plant is widely used by many Indigenous peoples as it has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments. It has medicinal, practical, ceremonial and spiritual uses in Coastal First Nation groups. The many medicinal purposes of this plant vary among cultural groups, though most traditional medicines utilize the roots, and green inner bark of the branch or stalk.
Devil’s Club is anti-viral, used as an anti-inflammatory, a pain-killing medicine, to heal skin infections, helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, used to combat arthritis, rheumatism, gastrointestinal issues, colds and fever. Many people suffering from diabetes also drink Devil’s Club Tea (made from the shredded bark).
Spiritually, the plant is used to purify and bring good luck. In some Coast Salish homes you might notice a piece of dried Devil’s Club placed in a corner of a room, in front of a window or even suspended from the ceiling to ward off negative energy and protect those within the household. The stalks can be cut, hollowed out and made into beads worn next to the skin for protection. Additionally, charcoal from the stalks is still used to make protective face paints for dancers within ceremony as well as activities within the Big House.
As with all medicines, Devil’s Club must be harvested with respect for its gift and care for the interconnectedness of all things. Approach the harvest with good intentions. The best time to harvest is in spring and early summer when the stalk first sprouts green growth and the leaf spines are soft and pliable. Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves to avoid being cut by the prickly spines and thorns. Offer a prayer, song, or other gift before using garden shears to snip off the smaller spines/branches and allowing the main part of the shrub to continue to grow. Return what you will not use back to the forest where it can continue to nurture life, and make sure to never harvest more than you will use.
Once you have collected the branches, allow time for the plant to dry – either hanging up on or on a rack. Once dried, the thorns and spikes can be removed with the blunt edge of a knife, and the outer bark be peeled off to be dried for medicine.
Stz’uminus member Dan Elliott shares, “A Devil’s Club salve can be made and directly applied to the skin or consumed as a liquid tincture which can be mixed in with your favorite beverage. The root bark and mulched stalk can also be steeped along with other plants/medicines and brewed into a tea. I like to create a version of Super Immune Booster Tea:I use one handful each of Devil’s Club and Red Willow, and add a few sprigs of Western White Pine and Balsam. Boil in six quarts of water for 5 minutes and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy the healing effects of medicine tea.”
Dan suggests 2-3 cups a day if you are fighting the flu for adults and ½ dose for children under 10 as this is a protectoral tonic and immune booster.
Make your own Devil’s Club Salve:
· Devil’s Club bark, dried
· Olive oil
· Grated beeswax
· Essential oils (optional)
· Vitamin E liquid capsules (optional)
· Jars with lids
· Mesh strainer/cheesecloth
· Large pot or slow cooker
Fill a jar with shredded devil’s club bark and cover with olive oil (leaving at least ¼ inch of space at the top). Put the lid on the jar, cover in simmering water in a pot or slow cooker and allow to infuse 6 hours or overnight.
Strain the bark from the oil using a fine strainer or cheesecloth.
To make the salve, pour the infused oil into a pot and heat on low to medium. Add grated beeswax (2-4 tablespoons per cup of infused oil) and allow them to melt together. At this point, you can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil (optional, but makes it smell nice) and a few drops of liquid vitamin E (also optional, but acts to preserve the salve). Stir together, pour into small jars and allow to cool and harden up.
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