Devil’s club is a herb that has been used widely for its medicinal benefits by indigenous people living in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
It’s said to help with various respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune conditions, eczema, type II diabetes, external infections, and internal infections.
Devil’s club has many different names, including Alaskan ginseng, Pacific ginseng, and devil’s walking stick.
All of these names refer to the same herb.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of devil’s club, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
Health Benefits of Devil’s Club:
Devil’s club is reported to have many different health benefits.
It was frequently used by Native American people groups as part of their traditional medicine practice. It’s been reported that it was used to treat over 30 different ailments.
While devil’s club has a rich history in traditional medicine, it hasn’t been studied in human clinical trials. However, devil’s club has been studied in various in vitro (i.e. test tube) and animal studies, which are outlined below.
1. Anti-Diabetic Properties
In indigenous groups, devil’s club is extensively utilized for the management of diabetes.
These groups claim that devil’s club works to decrease blood sugar levels by improving the efficiency of insulin.
These claims are not yet verified.
Preclinical research shows that a specialized extract of devil’s club showed a slightly hypoglycemic effect in lab hares.
Inconsistently, newer research on devil’s club tea showed that it exhibited no significant hypoglycemic effects. While this study showed no benefits, it also should be noted that the study was small, with only a handful of patients.
A recent test-tube study showed that three phenolic glycosides obtained from the root bark of devil’s club displayed negative activity for their α-glucosidase inhibition.
Human studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of devil’s club on diabetes.
Summary:According to both lab-based research and traditional usage, devil’s club may be useful in managing diabetes. Human studies are needed for verification of this finding.
2. Anti-Cancer Properties
Devil’s club has been researched for its role in slowing the spread of cancers. Researchers have looked at its role in various forms of cancer, including colorectal, breast, lung, and ovarian cancer.
To date, no human clinical studies have been conducted on this herb and its impact on cancer. The current data is based on a combination of test-tube studies and animal model studies.
These various studies have concentrated on devil’s club extract mainly containing polyynes from the root bark.
One study, in particular, looked at the effects of devil’s club on a variety of different types of cancer cells. The results showed that the devil’s club possessed potent anti-proliferative effects.
However, human studies are needed to see if devil’s club affects cancer development when taken as a supplement.
Summary:Lab-based studies indicate that devil’s club may possess the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Human clinical research is required to confirm this finding.
3. Antimicrobial Properties
Test tube studies show that devil’s club may have both antibacterial and antifungal effects.
One study looked at the antibacterial properties of devil’s club. Researchers found that it had the ability to kill a variety of different types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Another test-tube study found that devil’s club was effective in killing various types of fungus, including Aspergillus flavus, Aspergilfus fumigatus, Candida albicans, Fusarium tricuictum, Microsporum cooker, Microsporum gypseum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Trichoderma viridae, and Trichophyton mentagrophyte.
As mentioned before, the next required step is to prove these promising effects in human clinical trials.
Summary:Test-tube research shows evidence of devil’s club being able to kill various types of bacteria and fungi, however, human studies are needed for verification.
Devil’s Club Safety:
Safety Class: 1 (safe to consume when used appropriately)
Interaction Class: A (no clinically relevant reactions are expected)
When taken within the recommended dosage range, this herb appears to be safe to consume.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
No studies have been conducted on the safety of devil’s club during pregnancy or lactation. While no concerns have been identified, safety has not been conclusively established.
Devil’s club grows and reproduces slowly and takes many years to reach seed-bearing maturity. Thus, it is very sensitive to human impact, which is why buying from a sustainable source is important.
Naming & Taxonomy:
The scientific name for devil’s clubs is Oplopanax horridus.
Oplopanax is derived from the word “hoplon“, which means weapon. “Panakos” means “panacea” or “all-heal”. “Horridus” refers to its spiny, wicked-looking appearance.
This plant is known for its stems which are covered in sharp spines.
It grows all throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, though it is also found in isolated areas around Lake Superior.
History & Traditional Use:
Devil’s club has been utilized by Alaskan and British Columbia native people for centuries for both spiritual and medical practices.
Traditionally, the aqueous decoction of the root or stem bark was used by indigenous people for colds, fever, burns, stomach issues, body aches, sore throats, swollen glands, constipation, and tuberculosis.
The inner bark of the root and stem has been used to stop infection in wounds and reduce swelling.
The Alaska Natives from the Alaskan southeast coast, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Kenai, Prince William Sound, and Tanana Valley use the inner bark of the root and stem to treat colds, coughs, and fevers.
The traditional methods for treating gout include applying the heated inner bark to the injured region and bandaging it, or chewing the root or stem bark and spitting the crude plant on the wound as an emergency pain reliever and antiseptic.
The infusion of the inner bark of O. horridus was described as a possible treatment for cancer by indigenous linguistic people including Alutiiq, Gitxsan, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian.
The primary chemical compounds in devil’s club include polyynes (polyacetylenes), phenylpropanoids (aglycones and glycosides), lignan glycosides, triterpenoids, sesquiterpenes, and volatile compounds.
Devil’s club has been used in traditional medicines for centuries and its potential is just now being explored.
In addition to the herb’s potential ability to regulate blood sugar levels, it also possesses antimicrobial properties. It also appears to have anti-cancer activity.
It may be worth giving this plant a try if you are looking for an alternative way of supporting your body.
As always, it is recommended that you consult your primary healthcare practitioner before adding any new herbs or supplements to your diet.
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