January 30, 2018

Devil’s Club

Devil’s club is mentioned very briefly in The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones, when Tara shows Connor the sights of Port Anna. “She led him to the bank, holding back thorny branches of devil’s club.” There’s really no other mention of the plant in the book, or any indication of what it is.

From what I’ve been reading about it, I’m a little surprised it wasn’t mentioned in one of the scenes with Betteryear, with some information about the medicinal uses. It is apparently a plant with great importance to native people, especially the Tlingit.

Devil's+club

Photo courtesy of Jo Wendel at Alaska Floats My Boat

Its Latin name is Oplopanax horridus, and it’s also sometimes called Devil’s walking stick.

 

I found an interesting post about devil’s club and how to harvest it. This is actually the same site that had information about many of the wild edibles in The Alaskan Laundry, and they also have several pages on how to prepare devil’s club tea and salve, and what to do with it, as well as links to more information.

One of the sites they link to is this post with medicinal information about devil’s club, including its proposed use for regulating blood sugar. As always–please consult your doctor or health care professional first! Parts of this article sound like the plant sap is absorbed through the skin or via scent and has mood-altering properties, which makes me very wary.

The Monterey Bay Spice Company actually offers the inner bark for sale, and has info on uses and traditions as well.

devils clubThis is another great photo–one I found on Pinterest. Apparently, those top buds are edible, at least for a short while (although don’t take my word for it – seek info from experts!).

Devil’s club is also mentioned in To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, along with several other wild edibles that came up in The Alaskan Laundry (including “wild raspberry bushes” which are probably salmonberries.

In this section, the Colonel’s expedition was crossing the region between the top of the Wolverine River and Kulgadzi Lake (beyond which was the mountain pass to the Yukon River). It was mid-June by this time. They were traveling by night as well as day at times, and the heat had finally put an end to the horrible mosquitoes they had recently encountered along the river.

The lowlands are thick with cottonwood, birch, & willow, all in foliage. When we enter the forest, we walk through stinging nettles, wild raspberry bushes. There are, too, giant leaves with stalks as tall as a man & barbed with spines that cause welts to the skin. The trapper calls them devil’s club. The name is well earned.

Then, on the far side of the lake, as they climb into the mountain pass, the Colonel mentions it again.

What appeared from the distance as grassy hillsides, upon closer inspection have proven to be thick with alder & devil’s club.

The author of the post I linked to above says that devil’s club thorns go right through jeans, and the thorns tend to break off, leaving sores that fester, so I have to wonder about the accuracy of Brendan Jones’ image in The Alaskan Laundry of Tara “holding back the branches” of the plant for Connor. I suppose that’s an example of poetic license, allowing him to add in a local plant without getting into too much detail. It’s a piece of setting that I appreciate, so I’ll forgive the possible inconsistency.

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