The inner bark of devil's club has a medicinal taste. It is kind of spicy, maybe a touch hot, and not pleasant to my senses. I'm chewing a piece of fresh devil's club root bark right now, and will only be able to keep it in my mouth for a few minutes. This experiment is to see if I get the same mild sense of well-being from chewing the fresh plant material as I do from drinking devil's club tea or taking the tincture.
There are many reported medicinal uses of devil's club. Historically it has been used for sprains, boils, arthritis, diabetes, stomach troubles, tuberculosis, colds, as a general tonic and much more. This is powerful medicine and deserves respect. Internal use of devil's club can dangerously lower blood sugar, so if you have any concerns there, check with your doctor. There are more reasons to be very careful with devil's club, too, so I will list some recommended reading at the end of this post.
I've been working with a batch of devil's club (Oplopanax horridum) root inner bark, and have some images and methods to share with you. Once the work of collecting and preparing the devil's club is done (to read about that click HERE) then making salve is easy. There are lots of different recipes, and this is just the way I go about it.
I am making two batches; one with organic olive oil and the other with organic coconut oil and a little olive oil.
Using a sharp knife, chop the bark.
Put equal measures of firmly packed devil's club bark and oil into a double boiler. The double boiler is necessary for both safety and the quality of the salve. Turn the heat to low. The smallest burner on my stove is still too hot, so I put a metal trivet under the pan to reduce the heat. I don't want to cook the roots, just extract the medicinal constituents.
The coconut oil is solid at room temperature. Because I don't want the salve to be as firm as coconut oil I use about 3/4 coconut oil and 1/4 olive oil.
In the second batch I am using straight olive oil and then will thicken it with beeswax.
I usually run the stove in the daytime, and turn it off at night, giving the process two to four days. This is a great back-of-the-stove project if you have a wood or oil stove!
After a few days, strain the oil through a cloth. I use polyester silkscreen fabric, which is tough but allows the oil to pass through easily.
At this point I usually add a little vitamin E oil as a preservative.
The coconut oil mixture is going to be just the right consistency at room temperature, but the olive oil batch needs to be thickened with beeswax. Slice or grate the wax and add a small amount to the oil. I added two tablespoons of grated beeswax to start.
After the wax melts, dip a spoonful of the oil out and allow it to cool. If it is a good consistency for salve, then the mixture is ready to put into containers. If it is too runny then add more beeswax a little at a time and test the consistency again. In the batch I finished today I had to add one more tablespoon of grated wax.
I filled little sample containers to give away, and put the rest into a small jelly jar for my use. I plan to make another batch this fall when the medicine in the roots is said to be stronger.
This is a basic salve, and other ingredients or other plants can be added.
Tinctures may be used internally or externally depending on what plants they are made from and the desired effect. I make a Labrador Tea tincture and Arnica tincture that are only for external use, and Sundew tincture that is for internal use. Devil's club tincture can be used externally or internally. Tinctures can be very strong and very specific, and doses are measured in drops. I will use twenty drops of my devil's club tincture, but what you need may be very different. Please read up if you are going to make and use a preparation such as this.
Once the plant material is collected and prepared then making a tincture is easy to do. I pack the devil's club root bark very firmly into a jar and pour alcohol over it, filling the jar to the top. For fresh bark I use Everclear, and for dried bark I use vodka. Then I put the jar into a cool, dark place, take it out once a day, shake it, and put it back.
After fourteen days the tincture is ready to strain. Pour the contents of the jar into a cloth lined bowl, then gather the cloth up and squeeze the tincture out. Put the tincture into a glass container (a dark colored glass is best), and label it. I like to be specific with the label so that I know the time of year the bark was collected, if it was tinctured fresh or dry, and what kind of alcohol was used.
Here are some sources for information on devil's club:
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore
Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
Three Herbs: Devil's Club, Oregon Grape & Chaparral by Ryan Drum (this is an article on his website)
Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Pojar and MacKinnon