Devil's Club Salve

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Devil's·club (Oplopanax horridus; Araliaceae) is a deciduous, spiny shrub which was and still is an important medicinal plant for many Indian peoples in western North America. Its traditional uses involve both physical and spiritual realms of medicine. The inner bark and roots were used to treat rheumatism and arthritis, stomach and digestive ailments, tuberculosis, colds, skin disorders, diabetes, and many other ailments. Extracts from it have marked hypoglycemic properties, but little else is known of its pharmacological attributes. It was taken by shamans, initiates, and others wishing to attain supernatural powers. Special protective powers were attributed to it, presumably because of its prickliness. Its wood was used for fishing lures and the charcoal as a pigment in a protective face paint for ceremonial dancers. Devil's-club was named in almost every Native language used within its geographic range. There are some 13 to 15 known separate etymons for it in more than 25 different languages. In most languages, the derivation of the name is presently unknown. More pharmacological research on this plant is needed.

The effectiveness of devil's-club as a medicine for arthritis, skin ailments, malignant tumors, and other types of afflictions requires further investigation. It is remarkable, considering the widespread and continuing usage of devil's-club among Native and even non-Native peoples, that its chemical composition and pharmacological properties have not been more thoroughly studied to date.

The fresh plant and extracts made from it have a characteristic sweetish odor. The late George Young, a Haida man from Skidegate who had taken the "devil's-club treatment" for arthritis, apparently with remarkable success, recalled that shortly after one had drunk the decoction of devil's-club, he could smell it from his joints (Turner 1970). MacDermot (1949:181) noted that the plant has "apparently a hygroscopic and detumescent effect on swellings," Justice (1966:38) notes several testimonies as to the efficacy of devil's-club as a medicine. One was a Chief of one of the Alaskan villages who took it for a red, painfully swollen finger that was unrelieved by the prescribed treatment of aspirin, raising the hand, and heat. He took one glass of devil's-club extract, which relieved the symptoms completely in eight hours. Another was a case of four teenagers who used the dried inner bark laid directly into a tooth cavity and experienced prompt pain relief. Adult males reported that they had applied the stalk strips to axe wounds received in the bush, sufficiently relieving the pain to enable them to continue on until they came to medical attention. Yet another case is described by Justice (1966:38) where a male patient with metastatic adenocarcinoma [secondary malignant tumor] was discharged from the hospital with a few month's prognosis and a terminal supply of morphine. Three years later, he had regained his health and strength after extensive treatment with devil's-club extract. John Thomas (personal communication, 1981) also explained that within his own group (Nitinaht), and among neighboring Coast Salish groups, devil's-club is considered "sacred." Along with red ochre paint, it is considered to be a link between the ordinary, or profane world, and the supernatural, or the spirit world.

The protective or supernatural powers attributed to devil's-club are also reflected in Northwest Coast mythology and oral tradition, particularly among the Haida, Tsimshian, and TIingit. A good example of this is in a story told by the late Willie Matthews, a Haida speaker and Hereditary Chief of Masset on the Queen Charlotte Islands: One of his ancestors had been fasting out in the forest for several days. Eventually, he came across a giant devil's-club plant with a trunk about 0.5 m (1¥.< ft.) in diameter and leaves almost 2 m (5 ft.) across. He ate the inner bark from it, and immediately lost consciousness. Upon awakening, he saw a supernatural being, similar to a "fairy," who was thenceforth his guardian spirit.

Devil's club, in Northwest coast cultures, was associated with bears. The Tlingit apparently based their original use of the plant as medicine on the observation of two bears attempting to soothe battle wounds by chewing devil's-club roots (Justice 1966:36).

Below are some documented use of Devil’s Club by Native Americans.




charcoal mixed with grease, as salve for swellings, sores.


inner bark of root baked, powdered, used as poultice on swollen glands, boils, sores, other infections


inner bark chewed, tied onto wounds to relieve pain, prevent blood poisoning

Kaigani Haida

inner bark chewed, spit on wounds as emergency analgesic. inner bark laid on skin over fracture to reduce pain, swelling. inner bark or root dried, pulverized with pitch, applied to skin abrasions

Central Carrier

bark scraped, plastered over sore area

Southern Kwakiutl

ashes mixed with oil, rubbed on swellings

Ohiat Nootka

decoction used in bath for arthritis, rheumatism

Mainland Comox

bark, root infusion in bath as skin tonic


infusion of inner bark used in steambath for lameness, arthritis, rheumatism. charcoal, with oil, poultice for bums. decoction of bark, root applied externally for skin disease


important in magic


root eaten by novice shamans for purification. dried bark mixed with red ochre as love charm. chewed by shamans to augment hypnotic powers


eaten with Moneses to gain supernatural powers. chewed for ritual purification gamblers, hunters, sick people


decoction drunk, used in bath to gain supernatural power. inner bark chewed, rubbed on body to bring luck in hunting

Bella Coola

charm against supernatural power. hung in house, used as fumigant, to ward off "strong sickness

Southern Kwakiutl

attributed magical powers

Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfoot

used by medicine-men in their incantations

Devils Club Salve has been used to treat a variety of ailments:

Rash, Dry skin, Eczema, Chapped lips, Burns, Mosquito bites, Hemorrhoids, Swelling of hands/feet, Bed sores, Leg cramps, Stomach cramps, Sore muscles, Back/neck pain, Hip/knee pain, Arthritis, Carpal tunnel syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Sprained ankle, Tired feet, infections, spiritual healing, protection, and many more.

The following tribes used it for these purposes:

Arthritis and (or) rheumatism: TIingit and (or) Kaigani Haida: Haida; Gitksan; Bella Coola; Southern Kwakiutl; Nootka: Nitinaht: Squamish; Seche!t: Halkomelem (Upper Stalo);Cowlitz; Lillooet

Dermatological aid (wounds, burns, infections, etc.): Tanaina: Tlingit and (or) Kaigani Haida; Gitksan; Comox (Mainland); Sechelt:Thompson: Central Carrier; ( Sahaptin)

Testimonials from use of salve (Kaa'steen)

Devils Club is used by native Alaskans for medicinal purposes. The salve-like cream made from the plant is good for arthritis and in other forms, used to stablize blood sugar levels. If you get the chance, ask about the Ointment (Kaa'steen, native name for ointment)

Kathy P from Ohio 

I too have used the Kaa'steen. After dislocating my knee cap and tearing a ligament. Although the prescription pain killers the doctors gave me helped, when they ran out my knee still hurt. I also bike 14 miles a day. This ointment is my saving grace. I swear by it and recommend it to anyone who has joint issues. I fully intend on purchasing a nice stock pile as soon as I can. Be weary though, the plant is poisonous and so the salve should be used in small amounts. Just a little bit will work. apply to the affected joint just enough to feel the slightly greasy smoothness. Hope my information is helpful.

I sprained an ankle, then went on our Alaska cruise anyway; kept right on walking/limping when I shouldn't, which resulted in horrible bruises up the leg along with extra swelling. I bought the smallest jar of ointment after talking to this nice Tlingit lady (who makes it herself) when we visited Hoonah. Twice a day application speedily removed the bruises and most of the swelling, which was actually more important to me than the pain relief. I recommend it!


Recently purchased a med. size jar of ointment in Hoonah, Alaska. I have been using it twice a day for approx. a week on psoraisis and it is working better than anything I have used-even the expensive prescription ointments I have been using. I realize that my psoraisis will never be cured but it is looking much better just during this week of use. The ointment has taken away a lot of the redness and crusty dead skin build up and it is not so noticable.If this continues I will have to order some more!!


We have just returned from Alaska and while in Hoonah, purchased the largest jar of Kaa'steen and this stuff really works. I have had a hip replaced and the main muscle in the thigh keeps getting a 'charlie horse' in it when I go for long walks. A little Kaa'steen and I can walk for hours. Also my husband works in the sun full time and gets crusty patchs on the back of his hands. The doctor keeps removing some of them as possible skin cancers. After a couple of am and pm applications, they are gone, no traces at all. GREAT STUFF>


My Mom bought some of this ointment on here cruise last month and had a horrible grease burn last week, put on the ointment and the pain was gone within 3-4 minutes and had absolutely no blistering or redness or pain afterwards-from a grease burn!!! I imaginge we will all be buying a supply of it now!


I too was in Hoonah this past summer as part of a cruise. I bought a small jar of ointment, not knowing if I would ever use it. I suffered a 2nd degree sunburn, causing my leg to swell and blister. I ran across the ointment after using other remedies with no relief. I gently massaged in the ointment, not holding out much hope, just before going to bed. I woke up the next morning pain-free and the blisters all but gone! My sister, who was on the same cruise, borrowed some ointment from me for her lower back (she has compression fractures due to osteoporosis). She woke up the next morning pain-free, without having to take her usual Vicodin dosage. She promptly called to order a large jar as well as a jar for a friend of hers. I sing the praises of Devil's Club whenever possible - What a great find!


I echo all of the positive comments about the ointment and add one more. Living in Colorado, my fingers regularly dried and cracked in winter, due to the dry cold. My fingernails also became brittle in the dry climate, constantly splitting and peeling in layers. I began using the ointment for my arthritic knee and plantar fasciitis, but found in the process that miracles seemed to happen to my hands, feet and nails. I no longer have cracked skin and my nails have to be trimmed to keep them from growing too long, not to keep them from breaking.


As stated above this stuff is great. I highly recommend it to anyone with join issues. Additionally an article in a medical journal has greatly increased demand.Thanks all and hoe this helps.

Androse Glover 

I too bought some ointment when in Hoonah. I am a Registered Nurse in California with over 30 years experience. This ointment is the best thing for pain since the opium poppy! I have reordered several times. I have chronic joint and muscle disease which is genetic. I have halved my pain pills with this product. The old folks knew best! I have been skeptical of "herbal" remedies that are more wishful thinking than actually effective. Devil's Club is the real thing. I would be interested in other uses like teas, etc. I am sure it must be toxic if not used correctly. It has been used for tuberculosis in days gone by--orally???inhaled??? Does anyone have a reference of any studies of this plant?? Teresa Gavaletz, MSHS, RN Livermore,

Terri Gavaletz 

cruised to ALASKA 2005, called into HOONAH & I brought some wonderful ointment, sadly I only bought the small jar, I don't know how long it keeps for but I had a fall & bones were hurting, found my little treasure with only a scaping left have applied it & is helping. I would dearly love to buy more but have no idea how to go about it, so if there is a way for me to get it, I would much appreciate it. Could you send me details on how to get some more of this wonderful ointment & the costs. Regards TRISH

Trish Andrews 

Woodland Bitters


"A drink should have an atmosphere to it," says Brad Thomas Parsons. "If a cocktail seems to be missing something it's often because there aren't bitters in it."

slideshow Classic Cocktails

2 cups overproof bourbon (such as Wild Turkey 101)

  1. 1 cup pecans, toasted
  2. 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  3. 4 cloves
  4. Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  5. 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
  6. 1 vanilla bean, split
  7. 2 tablespoons devil's club root
  8. 1 tablespoon cinchona bark
  9. 1 tablespoon chopped black walnut leaf
  10. 1 tablespoon wild cherry bark
  11. 1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
  12. 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
  13. 1/2 teaspoon sarsaparilla root
  14. 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
  3. Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
  4. Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place