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ALASKAN GINSENG Opolopanax horridum

  Description: Plant

Text Box:  Large spiny shrub, 8'-10'; thick, woody stems, with few branches, 1/2 to 1-1/2", covered with long, sharp thorns; very large leaves, sharply toothed, thorns along veins; large flower heads producing large, heavy clusters of red berries.



Ravines, openings in moist, well-drained soil, in partial shade, in Southcentral & Southeast Alaska.



Devil's club is a most important plant to coastal people in Southeast & Southcentral Alaska, for both medicinal & mystical purposes. Athabascans boil the stem & branches or the root bark for fevers, stomach trouble, coughs, colds, and tuberculosis. Baked inner bark is used as a compress on swollen glands, boils, sores & other infections. Tlingit, Haida & all other Pacific Northwest coastal Indians have used this plant extensively. Medicinally, they use an infusion of root bark for general strength, colds, chest pains, arthritis, black eyes, gallstones, stomach ulcers, constipation & tubercu­losis. The stalk can be chewed & spit directly upon open wounds as an emergency analgesic measure. Devil's club is closely associated with shamanism. Shamans may carry a power charm made with spruce twigs, devil's club roots & their animal tongue, acquired during their quests. During the quest (a novice who feels called to shamanism quests for his power) a novice goes into the woods for one or several weeks, eating nothing but devil's club. Devil's club, along with hellebore & wild heliotrope, can act magically. Nootka people on Vancouver purified themselves for whale hunting by drinking devil's club, bathing in devil's club & abstaining from sex. Devil's club is sometimes nailed to doors to keep out evil spirits or witches. Devil's club is also used to cure hangovers, as a deodorant or perfume, as baby talc, to regulate menstrual flow & lactation, & as a powerful snuff.

Devil's club is a ginseng plant, being a member of the Araliaceae family, & closely resembling Siberian ginseng. Siberian ginseng is in great demand worldwide & fetches a good price. Cosmonauts use Siberian ginseng for strength & well-being. The potential for Devil's Club, hereafter called Alaskan ginseng, is great. Alaskan ginseng is a new panax ginseng from the Pacific Northwest (panax is the genus name of Oriental & wild American ginseng, & is the Latin root for the word panacea). It is suitable for industrial uses, i.e., for manufacturers who might use ginseng as an ingredient in items such as herbal tobacco, soft drinks, capsule pharmaceuticals & tea blends.  Alaskan ginseng is a potentially valuable export crop for Alaska.


Special Harvest or Processing Comments:

The species name for Alaskan ginseng is horridum, which refers to the horrible things it does to you when you come in con tact with its thorns. When working with O. horridum, wear leather or heavy-duty plastic gloves, heavy-duty rain pants or wool pants, with cotton pants underneath, heavy-duty shoes & a couple of layers of shirts. The layered clothes are important to keep the thorns from penetrating to your skin, where they will fester, once imbedded. To dig roots, grasp stalk at base & gently tug until root becomes exposed, then grasp root & tug to expose more, & so forth until the entire root is pulled up. The roots generally run only a few inches deep under very loose soil. Occasionally you will encounter taproots that dive deeply into sandy, rocky earth - break these off & leave them - they are impossible to extract. Also, leave the large, gnarled "clubs" you will find - they are too difficult to wash & peel, & if you leave them, they will grow back into more plants. It is best to concentrate on digging up long, straight pieces which are 1/2" thick or larger. Wash the roots as soon as possible with a plastic bristle vegetable scrubber. Then, for a premium product, peel off the root bark with a knife & place on screens to dry.  Or, for a lower grade, industrial product, dry roots whole for later mechanical chipping.

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