Devil's Club Harvest

It is the end of November, the rain has let up and even though low in the sky the sun shows itself today. Fall is the main season for root harvesting as at this time of year the plant turns downward to the roots to store energy for the winter. The macrocosm for this is how entire forests turn colour and drop leaves for winter, naturally mulching and using those same leaves for nutrients in the spring. We may notice this in ourselves as we enter fall and winter; turning inward perhaps are less social and less outwardly active. It is a natural rhythm of life.


Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridum) is an intense plant which claims it’s space. Oplopanax usually grows in large stands of wet, well drained older growth forests. The whole plant is covered in thorns which are unpleasant, painful and sometimes long-lasting in the skin. This is a protection of the plant, showing clear boundaries. The thorns make walking through and harvesting the roots a careful, delicate dance.

For me respect, interacting, and acknowledgment of the plant is synonymous with harvesting medicine. Once I find a stand large enough to ethically harvest from I take the time to sit with the plant. I give an offering of tobacco and spend time connecting with the plant. I try to hold this clear, meditative state while I harvest. Crawling through the spiky stands I dig up horizontal roots, not collecting more than I need. Time dose not register; I am focused, engaged, and know that this is a process which cannot be rushed. 


Upon arriving home, the real work of processing the plant begins. I start by cleaning the dirt, moss and spikes off of each stick. Next I strip the bark from the heartwood, as the medicinal part is the inner root bark. The inner bark is chopped finally, weighed and ready to be tinctured. 


The strong bewitching, spicy scent of Devil’s club lingers in my kitchen and on my clothes. Inevitably I have thorns in my hands despite the fact I kept them in gloves. It is a small price to pay for spending the day with an important plant of the Pacific North West and access to its powerful medicine. 


Another day of medicine making is complete.