What does the herbalist need to know about Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus) before incorporating this plant into Materia Medica?
Ethnobotanical and western scientific literature, commercial claims and ethical considerations about devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus) are reviewed and analysed in an effort to give the herbalist information necessary to make a decision about addition of this plant to the materia medica.
The ethnobotanical literature reviewed shows documented, long traditional use in a wide range of infections including tuberculosis, in rheumatism and arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and pain relief. Strong purgative and emetic properties are also well documented.
An exhaustive review of the scientific literature show in-vitro activity of the plant against bacteria, viruses, mycobacteria and fungi.
Scientific investigations conducted to assess the hypoglycemic effects of devils club are reviewed and found to be inconclusive.
The treatment of diabetes with devil’s club is discussed in traditional, scientific and historical context, and finds insufficient evidence to support claims of a hypoglycaemic action.
The traditional use in treating tuberculosis and the subsequent scientific investigations showing the plant’s significant in-vitro activity against drug resistant Mycobacterium avium are analysed and discussed.
Commercial claims for devil’s club are reviewed. Sufficient evidence was not found in the literature to support use in diabetes, hyperglycaemia, cancer, or as a ginseng substitute. However further investigations for use in diabetes and cancer are warranted.
Traditional preparations of devils club are reviewed. No evidence of traditional use of devils club in tincture or capsule form is found in the literature, nor is evidence found to support safety or efficacy of these types of preparation.
Finally the author reviews ethical considerations, and concludes that it would be unethical to use this plant unless there are sustainable harvesting and management practices, permission from First Nations people to use traditional knowledge and to commercialise this sacred plant, and benefit sharing with First Nations people according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.