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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Skunk Cabbage  (Symplocarpus foetidus)  

Other Names:   

Collard, meadow cabbage, polecat weed, skunk weed, swamp cabbage  (13)

Dracontium, Dracontium foetidum (Linn.), skunkweed, polecatweed, meadow

cabbage, spathyema foetida, ictodes foetidus    (35)  

Skunkweed, meadow cabbage, polecat weed.    (57)


Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:              

Part(s)  used:  root and rhizome (8); rootstock, roots    (13)

Identification & Harvesting:    A perennial, grows up to 3′ high, with a thick tuberous rhizome, truncate at both ends, dark brown and up to 2″ in diameter, gnarled and woody and bearing numerous roots and root scars.  Roots are up to 3″ long.  Leaves are like cabbage leaves and surround the inflorescence.  Plant has numerous small purple flowers in a red-brown oval spadix.  Unpleasant odor.  Indigenous to northern US.    (2)

Unearth in autumn or early spring.  Do not keep longer than a year:  they deteriorate with age and drying.    (8)

Skunk cabbage is a native American perennial plant, to be found in the swamps of eastern North America, as far west as Manitoba and Iowa. The large, tuberous rootstock produces fleshy roots and heart-shaped, cabbage-like leaves on thick leaf-stalks. Numerous small, purple flowers grow on a small, oval, fleshy spike (or spadix), covered by a purple and yellowish-green, hoodlike bract (or spathe). Flowering time is from February to April, before the leaves appear. The whole plant emits a skunk or garlic odor.   (13)

Root obconical, truncate at both ends, 3-4 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter, with numerous long shrivelled roots.  Often sold in transverse slices about 1/4 inch thick with a grey-brown irregular margin, and the transverse section whitish and starchy, with scattered yellowish wood bundles showing near the circumference sections of the rootlets at their origin.  Tastes acrid, biting.  Odor, disagreeable.   (57)

Active Constituents:   Malodorous volatile oil;  resins.  Constituents have not been fully investigated (2); volatile oil, resin, an acrid principle (8)

a fixed oil, wax, starch, volatile oil, fats, salts of lime, silica, iron and manganese (35); …resin, acrid principle,…  (36)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Actions:    Antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant, sedative.    (2)

antispasmodic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, slightly narcotic  (13); ….diaphoretic   (35)               

Antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant.    (57)

Conditions & Uses:    Used for bronchitis and asthma.    (2)

May be used in any tense or spasmodic condition in the lungs.  Will ease irritable coughs, asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough, and its diaphoretic action makes it useful for lowering fevers. (8)

The rootstock and roots of skunk cabbage have been used to treat respiratory ailments, including hay fever, asthma, whooping cough, bronchial problems, and mucous congestion. It has also been helpful for nervous disorders, spasmodic problems, rheumatism, and dropsy. Some American Indians boiled the root hairs to make a wash for stopping external bleeding. Those of one tribe inhaled the odor of the crushed leaves to cure headache–which may be a classic case of a cure worse than the disease.  (13)

It has been used with alleged success in asthma, chronic catarrh, chronic rheumatism, chorea, hysteria and dropsy. It is said to be helpful in epilepsy, and convulsions during pregnancy and labour. It is an ingredient in well-known herbal ointments and powders. Externally, as an ointment, it stimulates granulations, eases pain, etc.   (35)

Medical asthma, whooping cough, and bronchitis. Skunk cabbage has an unpleasant smell when bruised but it is a highly useful herb nonetheless. It is antispasmodic and expectorant with somewhat sedative properties and is prescribed for tightness of the chest, irritable tight coughs and other spasmodic respiratory disorders. In addition, it is sometimes used to calm the nervous system. It also has a diuretic action. Skunk cabbage was introduced into Europe during the last century.   (36)   

In small doses, the powder can be mixed with honey to yield an effective remedy for asthmatic and bronchial affections, in doses of 1/2-1 teaspoon.    (57)

Combinations:    For asthma, combine with grindelia, pill-bearing spurge, and lobelia.    (8)                                                                                                                                                          

Precautions:    Overdose is said to cause nausea and vomiting.    (2)

Through a system of processing and assessment of dosage, extremely valuable yet somewhat toxic herbs like…skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus)…can be reinstated into the clinical armamentarium of the practicing herbalist.  (6)

The fresh plant has acrid properties.   (13)

Large doses (of skunk cabbage) cause nausea, vomiting, headache, vertigo and dimness of vision (35);  

The fresh plant can cause blistering.   (36)

Tincturing Process:

Applications:   Infusion: steep 1 tsp. rootstock and roots in 1 cup water. Take 1 cup a day, a  tablespoon at a time.

Tincture: A dose is from 3 to 15 drops.    (13)

A tea made from skunk cabbage given in teaspoonfuls every ten minutes, or the tincture (15 drops in a 1/2 cup of warm water) is a specific remedy for hiccups  (14)

It is an ingredient in well-known herbal ointments and powders. Externally, as an ointment, it stimulates granulations, eases pain, etc.

The powdered root may be used, alone, or mixed with honey (1/2 oz. to 4 oz

of honey), but the best method of use is probably a saturated tincture of the fresh root. (35)


Dosage:  Of powder, 10 to 20 grains. Of tincture, 1 to 2 fluid drachms. Of fluid extract, 1/2  to 1 drachm.    (35)

In small doses, the powder can be mixed with honey to yield an effective remedy for asthmatic and bronchial affections, in doses of 1/2-1 teaspoon.  Liquid extract dose 1/2-1 drachm.    (57)

General Notes:  Skunk cabbage loses effectiveness with long storage.  (13)



(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 1166-67

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 20

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 233

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pg. 357

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 322

(35) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 I-Z) by Mrs. M. Grieve, pg. 742

(36) The New Age Herbalist  by  Richard Mabey,  pg. 28

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 320-21


photo: Wikipedia