I have been stripping the bark from Devil’s Club stalks, and I am heady from the smell. Pieces of the thorny outer bark are scattered all around me and in my hair. My fingers know it now, like a lover, know how to skim over the thorns and separate the inner bark from the outer without getting stung. I bend forward and bury my face in the finished pile of bright green inner bark. It’s so intense. I can only breathe it for a second. I turn to the stack of sticks, which I should throw into the woods to decompose and fertilize a new generation of green. But they are so beautiful. Not hollow like the fresh shoots and the top green parts of the stem, but the outer layer of wood is hard and the inner tube is filled with a soft, pithy wood. I smell one. It’s different than the bark. Stronger, but weaker. I bite it and I can feel where we meet, the edges that separate us between my teeth, but I can also feel the plant coursing through me, and my own spirit running through it.
Devil’s Club grows all over the Pacific Northwest, anyplace it’s wet. It especially loves growing by little seasonal springs. Not so much by big rivers.
In the spring, when the leaves are furled up like little asparagus spears you can eat the little fingers. They taste so good for you. You take a bite and you just know it’s giving your body soooo much good stuff. I wouldn’t eat more than five or so at a time. I mean, probably it’s okay to, but I don’t really know.
In Southern Alaska Devil’s Club is big medicine. Hundreds of years ago people noticed that bears always rolled around in the Devil’s Club when they were injured. So they tried it, and people have been communing with Devil’s Club ever since.
Traditionally people have used the root bark for medicine, but I learned from Janice Schoffield at the herb conference that you can use the bark of the stalks instead. This is good, cause you’re killing less plant for more medicine.
Devil’s Club can be used externally as a poultice on wounds to draw out infections and splinters and other things that get stuck under your skin. I haven’t had a chance to use it that way yet (I’m luckily wound free this summer).
There have been a few studies that say that Devil’s Club is bad for people with low blood sugar or thyroid issues. This worried me a little when I was first drawn to it, because I tend towards low blood sugar and thyroid issues. My understanding now though is that those studies used concentrated amounts of only one component of the plant. I don’t know of anyone who has actually had a bad experience with it. Also, Janice Schoffield says that while the root bark is always stimulating, the stalk bark is more system regulating (an adaptogen). So I’ve thoughtfully disregarded the studies, for now.
I use the tea and the tincture (still experimenting with the tincture) as a general adrenal tonic, when I need to calm down, or when I feel depleted. I’ve spent a lot of time meditating with the plant, and she’s taught me about that fuzzy place between giving too much and having good boundaries.
I took some pictures of the harvesting process, because it might be confusing if you haven’t done it before.
First find a big patch of Devil’s Club. Find the big grandmother plant, the tall one with all the others grouped around her, and ask her if you can take some of her grandchildren to make medicine.
Find a plant with no flowers or berries, and wearing gloves, use a hatchet or a saw to cut the stalk right above the ground.
Cut into manageable pieces, like this:
Take your knife and run it down the length of peice, and then start “skinning” both layers of bark away from the wood. You should probably wear gloves.
Now that you’ve got a little furl of bark, start flaking the brown spikey outer bark away from the bright green inner bark. It’ll look like this:
And at the end you’ll have a pile like this:
Put them in a paper bag or cardboard box to dry (if you’re fancy, maybe you have a dehydrator. I use my defroster). But it doesn’t need to be completely dry to use it. You can make tea right away, and you can tincture it almost right away. The tea is perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, but I love it. To make a tincture, put 1 part bark in a jar and cover with 2 parts vodka or brandy if you’re using fresher bark, and five parts vodka/brandy for dried bark. Shake it whenever you think of it. You can use it after two weeks, but don’t strain it for six weeks.
As usual, remember that I’m just a hobo stripper. I’m in no way qualified in this culture to tell you to ingest strange plants.
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