Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus)
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.
Alaska ginseng, American ginseng, Araliaceae, cukilanarpak, devil's club, devil's root, Echinopanax horridum (Sm.) Decne. & Planch, Fatsia, Fatsia horrida (Sm.) Benth. & Hook., Oplopanax horrideum, Oplopanax horridum, Oplopanax horridus ssp. horridus, Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Miq., Pacific ginseng, Panax horridum Sm., prickly porcupine ginseng, Riconophyllum horridum Pall., suxt, wild armored Alaskan ginseng.
Devil's club, a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae), has long been used for many medical conditions by indigenous peoples of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Among the traditional medical uses of devil's club, the most widespread is for the treatment of external and internal infections.
Traditionally, the inner bark of aerial stems was used. The most modern commercial preparations, however, use the root. Western herbalists use devil's club as a respiratory stimulant and expectorant, and for autoimmune conditions, eczema, external infections, internal infections, rheumatoid arthritis, sores and type II diabetes. They also use it to lower blood sugar and increase general well-being, and as a pancreatic tonic. At this time, there are no high-quality human trials supporting the use of devil's club for any indication.
As with many medicinal plants, there is concern about the commercialization of devil's club. This concern stems from the need to respect the intellectual property rights of the people from which the knowledge originated, compensate the original users of the plant, and align current uses ethically and culturally within the ethnobotanical context, all in the midst of the failures of the current legal mechanisms to accomplish these goals.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
The hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) effect is one of many reported uses for devil's club, which had a traditional use in diabetes, and continues to be used for this condition. Although early evidence looks promising, additional high-quality trials are needed to make a firm recommendation.
*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Acne, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, appetite stimulant, arthritis, blood disorders, birth control, blood purifier, body balancing, boils, burns, cancer prevention, colds, constipation, cough, diphtheria, emetic (induces vomiting), fertility, fever, gall stones, heart disease, influenza, laxative, measles, menstruation, pain, pneumonia, psychiatric disorders, purgative (laxative), skin infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sores, stomach trouble, stomach ulcers, swollen glands, tuberculosis, vision, weight loss, wound healing.
The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
Adults (over 18 years old)
There is no proven safe or effective dose for devil's club. Decoctions, tinctures, and infusions have all been used. Traditionally, 15-30 drops three times daily of tincture (fresh 1:2, dry 1:5, both 60% alcohol), or 1-3 fluid ounces three times daily of cold infusion has been used.
For blood sugar lowering effects, 1.4-1.6 milliliters of an aqueous extract per pound of body weight has been used. For weight gain, colds, and other illnesses, 125 milliliters before meals has been used.
Devil's club raw inner bark has also been chewed and spit on wounds for analgesia (pain relief), or laid in strips over a fracture to help with pain and swelling. The inner bark may also be dried, rubbed to a pulp and put on wounds to reduce infection. An ointment has also been made by burning the stems and mixing the ashes with grease to alleviate swellings.
Children (under 18 years old)
There is no proven safe or effective dose for devil's club in children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to devil's club. The spines on the stems and leaves are known to cause a topical allergic reaction.
Side Effects and Warnings
The American Herbal Products Association lists devil's club as Class 1, or "Herbs which can be safely consumed when used appropriately," though a duration of safe use is not specified. Devil's club is not listed by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
Chronic ingestion of a devil's club infusion may cause too much weight gain. The spines on the stems and leaves have been known to cause a topical allergic reaction. Diarrhea has occurred in one patient taking an aqueous extract of inner root bark.
Devil's club may also lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Devil's club is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence. Devil's club may expel afterbirth and start post-partum menstrual flow.
Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
Interactions with Drugs
Devil's club may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
Interactions with Herbs & Dietary Supplements
Devil's club may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
Bloxton JD. Notes on Economic Plants: Bioactive constituents of Alaskan devil's root (Oplopanx horridus, Araliaceae). Econ Bot. 2002;56(3):285-289.
Gruber JW, Kittipongpatana N, Bloxton JD, et al. High-performance liquid chromatography and thin-layer chromatography assays for Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus). J Chromatogr Sci 2004;42(4):196-199. View Abstract
Justice JW. Use of devil's club in Southeast Alaska. Alaska Med 1966;8(2):36-39. View Abstract
Kobaisy M, Abramowski Z, Lermer L, et al. Antimycobacterial polyynes of Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus), a North American native medicinal plant. J Nat Prod 1997;60(11):1210-1213. View Abstract
Lantz T, Swerhun K, Turner N. Devil's club an ethnobotanical review. HerbalGram 2004;(62):33-48.
McCutcheon AR, Ellis SM, Hancock RE, et al. Antibiotic screening of medicinal plants of the British Columbian native peoples. J Ethnopharmacol 1992;37(3):213-223. View Abstract
McCutcheon AR, Ellis SM, Hancock RE, et al. Antifungal screening of medicinal plants of British Columbian native peoples. J Ethnopharmacol 1994;44(3):157-169. View Abstract
McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol 1995;49(2):101-110. View Abstract
Mi HM, Li CG, Su ZW, et al. [Studies on the chemical constituents and antifungal activities of essential oil from Oplopanax elatus nakai]. Yao Xue Xue Bao 1987;22(7):549-552. View Abstract
Smith GW. Arctic pharmacognosia II. Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus. J Ethnopharmacol 1983;7(3):313-320. View Abstract
Stuhr ET, Henry FB. An investigation of the root bark of Fastia horrida. Pharm Archives 1944;(15):9-15.
Turner NJ. Traditional Use of Devil's-Club (Oplopanax horridus; Araliaceae) by Native Peoples in Western North America. J Ethnobiol 1982;2(1):17-38.
Wattenberg LW. Inhibition of azoxymethane-induced neoplasia of the large bowel by 3-hydroxy-3,7,11-trimethyl-1,6,10-dodecatriene (nerolidol). Carcinogenesis 1991;12(1):151-152. View Abstract
Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.
March 22, 2017