How to Harvest and Use Devil’s Club

Devil's Club in Southeast Alaska

Devil's Club Towering Over Teeny MetcalfeTreadwell Mine, Douglas, Alaska/Photograph by Ray Brudie

Devil’s club leaf shoots are the ultimate seasonal treat – they’re edible for only a few days a year and taste wonderful. They have a resiny, almost piney, odor when first picked that is tamed, but doesn’t dissipate entirely, when heated. Cooked devil’s club shoots have a uniquely energizing and complex flavor that tastes like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.

In spring, I check the devil’s club on our property daily, anxious lest I miss the narrow harvesting window. Once they’re ready, we immediately head out with bags and baskets to pick our fill of this unusual spring green. When I mention how good devil’s club shoots taste, I often get looks of disbelief from those who’ve fallen victim to the spines that cover its stalks and undersides of leaves.

Devil’s club (Echinopanax horridum, also known as Oplopanax horridus) is the bane of hikers and bushwhackers in coastal forests from southcentral Alaska to northern California and east to Montana. It’s also found on a few islands in Lake Superior.

Devil’s club’s sharp spines painfully puncture skin and can be difficult to dislodge. If you get attacked by devil’s club, the best way to remove spines is with tweezers. Because it’s such a large plant and grows in wide swaths, devil’s club can render impassable areas where it’s found in abundance.

In spring, before it has leaves, patches of devil’s club look like dried brown sticks, covered from top to bottom with nasty spines. When the leaf buds first appear, they’re cloaked in a thin brown sheath.

New Devil's Club Buds Have Soft Green Spines

Close up of Devil's Club leaf spines before they harden

Once the leaf buds break through their inedible sheaths, and are 1” – 2” long, they’re edible. At this stage, their leaf spines are soft and pliable. When the spines harden, leaf shoots can no longer be eaten.

Harvesting devil’s club shoots can be tricky because you must carefully pick your way through large patches of prickly stalks, often on uneven, moist terrain. Be careful not to grab the stalks for support or fall among the painful spines.

It’s also important to wear sturdy clothes when harvesting devil’s club. If you brush against one of its stalks, the spines can embed themselves in your clothing and work their way through to your skin. When you’re done harvesting, check your clothes over carefully and remove any lurking spines, or they’ll stab you the next time you wear the clothes or sit down in your car.

Devil's Club Leaf Bud

How to Harvest Devil’s Club Shoots

Carefully grasp green leaf bud, bend it down, twist, and the bud will snap off. Be careful how you do this, as you can easily drive the surrounding spines into your hand as you’re breaking off the bud. I learned this lesson the hard way; and more than once.

Blanched Devils Club Shoots

Blanched Devil's Club Shoots

How to Prepare Devil’s Club Shoots for Use in Recipes

Carefully pick through devil’s club shoots and discard any twigs, leaves, spines, damaged shoots, or leaf sheaths. Wash twice in cold water to remove all extraneous debris. Fill clean sink or large bowl with cold water. Blanch cleaned shoots in large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain shoots and immediately plunge them into cold water. Drain well. The devil’s club shoots are now ready to use in recipes, and may be frozen for later use.

Unless I plan on finely chopping or puréeing the buds, I separate the multiple leaf shoots that make up a single devil’s club leaf bud. There are both male and female leaf buds; females have a tiny green cone in the center that eventually will flower. Both types of leaf buds are edible.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

24 Responses to How to Harvest and Use Devil’s Club

  1. Judy Haley says:

    Wow! I grew up in Alaska, and went to great effort to avoid devils club at all cost. It never once occurred to me that you could eat it.

    I glad someone’s getting back at those mean old bushes. 🙂

  2. So interesting, what a great post! Of course whenever I hear about something unusual like this, I always wish I could taste it!

  3. Sam Sotiropoulos says:

    Your foraging entries are as informative as they are practical, so thank you for sharing. Greeks are huge foragers so I know exactly where you are coming from. I found that Crete was a wonderful place to forage, but now it looks like Alaska is too! 🙂

  4. Suganya says:

    Every time I come here, I learn something new.

  5. Wow! amazing. Who would have thought Alaska would be such a good spot for foraging 😉

    The chicken looks great too – and that’s something I’ve a chance of making

    Thanks for sharing

    Joanna

  6. Thanks for sharing all that info with us!!! How interesting! I would love to taste some 😀

  7. Peter G says:

    Laurie, you could give David Attenborough a good run for his money! But you’re better because you can cook!..LOL I’m learning so much from you. I had never heard of Devil’s Club shoots and I find it all very interesting. Thank you again for an interesting horticultural read.

  8. MEDITERRANEAN KIWI says:

    when i saw how huge they are in the first photo, i thought you could harvest as much as you want to eat, and freeze enough to serve up right throughout the winter!

    i wish I could try that salad in the photo – that’s what i call exotic food. and who would have thought it would be growing in alaska…

  9. Judy – you’re right – it’s a form of revenge for having to put up with devil’s club the rest of the year!

    Kalyn, yes, it’s just how I feel when I read certain Asian or Indian recipes.

    Sam, I think there’s good foraging pretty much anywhere. It’s just a matter of learning about the wild plants in your area.

    Suganya, thanks for stopping by!

    Joanna, yes, I included the chicken recipe just so there’d be something for everyone!

    Nuria, I would love to serve you some:-)

    PeterG – HA! I’m waiting for you to start combing Australia’s wild places …

    Maria, those giant leaves have giant spines all over their undersides – it’s a very agressive plant. I think you better start planning a trip to Alaska!

  10. Just catching up again Laurie…
    Anything that difficult to gather has got to be worth it! Wow. Maybe one day I’ll taste Devil’s Club.–
    If that’s you in the picture, you’re one classy lady! 🙂
    BTW-beans went in last week as mentioned and also, somehow I see foraging in my future!

  11. Like, Cheryl, I was wondering about who was in the photo. I somehow read the caption as “Teeny-Metcalfe-Treadwell Mine” which seemed like kind of a long name for a mine, but who knows how they name things up there in Alaska?

  12. By the way, Laurie, I meant to mention that your instructions for gathering this are very nice and clear. I’m confident that if I were to find myself in the Pacific Northwest at the appropriate time of year I could gather some. Oh sure, I’d injure myself despite your instructions, but it’d be worth it!

  13. Cheryl and Lulu – no that isn’t me in the picture – it’s my friend of 35 years who is named Teeny Metcalfe. And she is a classy lady!

    Cheryl, I’m glad you planted your beans – I was worried about you!

    Lulu, I’m glad the instructions were clear, but I’m thinking next season you need to find the devil’s club that grows in California. It really isn’t hard to gather this without hurting yourself – you just need to pay attention to what you’re doing. And, in Alaska, wear a little bug dope!

  14. Paul Kemp says:

    I picked a little for the first time today, along with a few fiddleheads and some fireweed, and sauteed them up in butter with garlic and onion. The devils club was the most delicious part of the whole dish, so I went out and picked a couple pounds of them (and stumbled on three morels too). I’m looking forward to experimenting with them.

  15. i got so scared reading about all those spines.

    i am constantly amazed by all the foraging and wonderful edible plants you have in your backyard.

    i’m inspired to go on some bush tucker trip into the aussie outback to see what i can find!

  16. Hi Laurie, love this post! I had never heard of the devil’s foot and am intrigued!

  17. Paul, your post made me so happy to read. I’ve been trying for years to convince people that devil’s club shoots are a special treat, but people are too afraid to try them. They are really one of my favorite spring greens and I enjoy mixing them with other spring edibles as you have done. Thanks for letting me know you picked them; it made my day.

    Anna, don’t be scared – just be careful! I hope you do go on a “bush tucker trip” – there are terrific wild edibles pretty much everywhere.

    Syrie, aren’t you in Vancouver B.C.? I’m positive that devil’s club grows wild in British Columbia – you should go on a collecting trip next spring (it’s too late in BC for this year’s gathering – the leaves are already out there)!

  18. Finspot says:

    Great post! I’m ready to harvest some myself now, although it’s too late for the foothill devil’s club outside Seattle. Maybe I can still get some in the mountains…

  19. Another great post about something I now feel compelled to try out. At the back of my mind I know I have read about Devil’s club before but have never seen it up close or even tasted it. Interesting post!!

  20. Wandering Chopsticks says:

    This post scares the heck out of me. Bravo you! Now I really want to try just to see what they taste like. I’m sure they’re wonderful to you after all you went through to harvest them.

  21. Well said.

  22. Chef Chuck says:

    Thanks for sharing , Devil club is new to me. Could you explain alittle more on it compared flavor?
    Thanks, Chuck

  23. can you use the mature huge leaves to cook things in in lieu of aluminum foil like some tropical countries do?

    • Hi Andrew, the mature leaves are covered by very stiff hard spines, that break off in your flesh quite easily. I stay away from devil’s club once its leaves mature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *