Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus) is a shrub-like member of the Ginseng family (Araliaceae). Devil's Club, also known as Alaskan Ginseng (or Suxt, if you're Tlingit), flourishes in moist forested areas, and can be found ranging anywhere from coastline to timberline on the west coast of North America, from Alaska down through Northern California.
Physically, Devil's Club has thick, crooked stems ending in large, flat, maple-like leaves. One Devil's Club shrub can grow to be 8 feet in height, and can sprawl many times that in width; one leaf can be three feet wide. The stems of Devil's Club are not very branched, but intertwine to form dense thickets. These thickets are made impassible to all but the most determined by the 1/2 inch thorns that thickly coat the plant's stems and leaves. The spines are especially nasty because, aside from their length, they contain silicon which makes the wound similar to those experienced from slivers of glass. In addition, the spines will usually break off at skin-level, which means tweezers are required to remove splinters. Any splinters left in the skin are likely to cause a nasty and painful infection. Devil's Club typically flowers in June or July. The small, white flowers are unremarkable and easy to miss among the thick tangle of leaves and stems. Harder to miss are the bright red berries which appear around late July. The berries grow in clusters on a long stalk, and are eaten by bears and other wildlife.
Although the berries are toxic to humans, Devil's Club leaves may be eaten (before the spines form). Some daring souls like to collect the young green leaf shoots early in the spring and add them to salads, omelettes, soups, and casseroles. These leaves, as well as the tender inner bark of the plant, can be dried and made into tea. In recent years, Devil's Club has gained popularity as a medicinal plant. The roots are sometimes used as a cheaper alternative to ginseng, while the inner bark has a variety of traditional uses. It can be used as an ingredient in burn creams, moisturizing creams, as a general ointment for wounds, or as a dietary supplement to restore balance and strength.