Drugs A - Z
Devil's club (Oplopanax horridus)
Generic Name: Oplopanax horridus
CategoryHerbs & Supplements
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.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: 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.
TraditionWARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. 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 healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
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.
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.
SafetyDISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
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
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, and was peer-reviewed and edited by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): Nicole Giese, MS (Boston University); Dana A. Hackman, BS (Northeastern University); David Kiefer, MD (University of Arizona); Cathy DeFranco Kirkwood MPH (CCCJS-MA, MD Anderson Cancer Center); Adam McLean, MPharm (University of Nottingham); Lisa Scully, PharmD (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy); Erica Seamon, PharmD (Nova Southeastern University), Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).
BibliographyDISCLAIMER: 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.
Justice JW. Use of devil's club in Southeast Alaska. Alaska Med 1966;8(2):36-39.
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.
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.
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.
McCutcheon AR, Roberts TE, Gibbons E, et al. Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol 1995;49(2):101-110.
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.
Smith GW. Arctic pharmacognosia II. Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus. J Ethnopharmacol 1983;7(3):313-320.
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.
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.