A Hobo Stripper's Materia Medica: Devil's Club


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.

(If you liked this, you might also enjoy these posts)


  1. Ah, so that’s Devil’s Club! I’ve seen it while hiking on trails off the 90, but never knew the name for it. Thanks for the idea, I’ll try making the tea soon.

  2. greetings from austin texas , interesting blogs lady . came across your stuff on a car site i subscribe to and have been reading your posts for an hour now your a good writer. just wanted to say i enjoyed your stuff im a bit of a gypsy myself on two wheels when time permits . i did have a question tho . have you ever considered a motorhome for traveling ? showers cooking and safety . i had one for quite awhile and it was really quite economical all things considered . anyway thank i was smilng reading your stuff ive knwn a few ladies that dance over the years and glad i did . speed safely wyatt

  3. Wyatt, I lived in a bus with all those ammenities. It was great. Except for breaking down all the time, not being able to park anywhere, not being able to drive way out in the boonies, and needing a thousand bucks to go anywhere. I cook in the van just fine, showers are a waste of space, and the van is much safer than an RV. I’d consider a short bus, a minnie winnie, or one of those little toyota van truck campers, but nothing big.

  4. I was once somewhere in mountains in Mexico (I really don’t know exactly where in Mexico) and was taken on a hike by some people in a village to a beautiful little valley with wild tomatoes and lime trees and a small river and a waterfall falling from a cliff at the end of the valley. We went swimming in the pool at the base of the falls and I handed my glasses to someone so I wouldn’t drop them in the water. I can’t see much at all without them. The person with my glasses (and shoes) walked off somewhere and I had to walk a ways over ground covered in big rocks which were hidden by tall grass. I lost my balance and grabbed the trunk of one of the wild lime trees only it wasn’t a lime tree. I was able to identify it immediatly when I felt the familiar sting of a nettle. It was 10′ tall and 4″ or so through the trunk.

  5. I find natural plant usage very interesting. My Grandmother made SO many things from them (She was Tslagi).

    I used to know of a tree bark that was a mild speed BUT also a STRONG hunger depressant you made a tea out of. It was used in the Appalachian Mountains to walk/run for long distances without food.

    Three days without food and just water was EASY and no problems returning to normal eating.

    I bet it would be good for some people. I don’t “diet” but so many people take such junk just not to be hungry. I gave up on watching my weight and I’m the size I was as a teenager, 6’3″ 195.

    Another thing I noticed is Nutrasweet makes you hungry! You are better off just drinking some sugar if you need some soda pop but best is to stick to high PH water.


  6. Hello

    I’m somewhat of a hermit, and live on the bottom edge of the Ozark National Forest (Arkansas). I grew up in a family of… woodsmen, if you will. I’ve always known the names of most plants in the woods and their uses, but my spirituality seems to have spawned from myself.

    After much debate, I found it necessary to clear the underbrush from the forested acre behind my house. I found myself apologizing to each sapling before I cut it. The clearing was necessary to achieve my long term goal of creating a sort of personal ‘garden of eden’ along the creek that runs behind my house.

    Here’s the bad part (and my point)… Before I realized the significant look of a certain cane-like plant, I had cleared about twenty Devil’s Clubs from the acre. I felt so bad when I found out what they were. Even before I knew what they were, and how rare they are in this region, I had spared the largest ones because of a feeling of significance that I was getting from them.

    Luckily, I found about twenty more of them further up the creek. The creek is spotted with springs all along it, some of which flow so well at times that the water shoots into the air a couple of inches, which is why I assume they are able to grow here.

    I’ve searched through numerous websites trying to find comprehensive information on them. This is the only site I’ve found that gives me the information that I require. Thank you for your words. They have been most valuable to me.

  7. I’m so glad to realize I’m not the only one who “hears” plants speak to me. Your writing is so beautiful it makes me cry. You are obviously living a blessed life, and it is ironic somehow that while living a lifestyle most people consider to be poverty driven you are richer and happier than any of them could dream.
    You go girl.
    Safe travels. Carina

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