Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice. Always use great care when identifying any plants you intend to consume and always consult multiple sources for accuracy.
Our mountains are full of incredible wildlife. One of my favorite plants is the one with the foreboding name. “The Devil’s Walking Stick”. It’s always sounded like the title of a B movie to me but it’s the name most people associate with tonight’s Forage Friday plant. It’s also known by several other names like Angelica Tree, Devil’s Club and Hercules Club. That last one is a good example of why scientific names are more important for some plants than others because a completely different tree will completely different usages also goes by Hercules Club. But tonight we’re talking about Aralia Spinosa. Which actually fun to say. ( For those interested the other Hercules Club is Zanthoxylum cluva-herculis. Not the topic of tonight’s post.)
Now I’m going to give an extra caution tonight. I’ve always been told that the berries of Devil’s Walking Stick are toxic. And they can be mistaken for elderberries if you’re not paying attention. If eaten in sufficient quantities the berries will cause upset stomach and its the seeds that carry most of the toxins. The plant has been suspected of causing poisoning to livestock but they’re favorable to birds, deer and bears. And I have heard that Native Americans ate the berries but I would have to presume that they removed the seeds and only are small quantities. Until I learn otherwise I’ll abstain from the berries myself.
However, in early Spring the shoots of the amazing leaves are edible raw or cooked and often used in aisian cooking. They are kinda special. The Devil’s Walking Stick has the largest leaves of any native plants. In fact most people mistake the leaf stem for branches.
The individual leaves can grow to be almost four feet long. When mature the stem is covered in thorns. If you double check tonight’s Feature Image you’ll see that the entire tree is bristling with rings of thorns. I’ve accidentally grabbed the trunk of this small tree to steady myself on a hillside just like this one and it’s a mistake you don’t want to duplicate!
I know that most of the people are looking at the photos and not believing that size of the leaf on such a small tree. That’s because it’s a compound leaf. It’s attached directly to the trunk so the tree has no need of branches. The winter form of the tree is kinda sad but the rest of time they are absolutely gorgeous! I missed getting a photo of the flowers but they’re equally impressive and have a lemony scent. If you keep bees then the Devil’s Walking Stick is a great option for honeybee forage as well.
Where this plant really takes its place is in herbalism. Aralia Spinosa is a member of the ginseng family. Here I feel the need to remind the reader that this is being presented as trivia and not medical advice. Also be aware that in addition to thorns this plant has a toxin that can sensitive skin to develop a rash.
A tincture made from the berries was a traditional treatment for toothache and rheumatism. Again I presume that the toxic seeds were removed prior to processing.
The roots were made into a poultice and applied to boils and other hard to heal sores as well as varicose veins.
For the most part it was the inner bark that was used. It was peeled and some was dried to be used in tea that promotes sweating. Fresh bark is strongly emetic and purgative.
History records that the roots were actually made into an eye wash. This surprised me because of all the irritation warnings associated with aralia spinosa.
My closing thoughts are that this is another plant that has potential in the hands of a qualified expert but other than the edible young leaves probably should be avoided by a novice.
Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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