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Skunk cabbage

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Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Alkaloids, Araceae (family), caffeic acid, calcium oxalate, Col apestosa, Dracontium, Dracontiumfoetidum L, eastern skunk cabbage, fatty oil, flavonol glycosides, Indian potato, meadow cabbage, n-hydroxytryptamine, narcotic, Orontium, phenolic compounds, pole-cat cabbage, polecatweed, Spathyemafoetida, swamp cabbage, Symplocarpus, Symplocarpusfoetidus, Symplocarpusrenifolius, tannin.
  • Note: This monograph covers only eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpusfoetidus), not western skunk cabbage (Lysichitonamericanum).

Background
  • Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpusfoetidus), or skunk cabbage, is closely related to western skunk cabbage (Lysichitonamericanum). Although very similar, these swamp-growing plants do not belong to the same genus. Skunk cabbage is predictably named for the foul smelling oil produced by the plant. Care must be taken in preparation of skunk cabbage, as the large amounts of calcium oxylate in all parts of the plant may cause excruciating pain upon ingestion.
  • Skunk cabbage is used to promote labor and treat dropsy (edema). The flower essence of the plant is also indicated to "move stagnated energy." In addition to its medicinal properties, skunk cabbage is boiled and eaten by Native Americans as a famine food.
  • Currently, there is a lack of available scientific evidence supporting the use of skunk cabbage for any indication.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Antispasmodic, asthma, bleeding, bronchitis, bruises, cancer, catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membrane), chorea (involuntary muscle movement), convulsions, cough, dental caries, diaphoretic (promotes sweating), diuretic, dropsy (swelling), edema, emetic (induces vomiting), epilepsy, expectorant, fever, food uses, hay fever, headache, hemorrhage (bleeding), hysteria, insecticide, labor induction, narcotic, parasites and worms, rheumatism, ringworm, scabies, skin sores, snakebite, stimulant (gastrointestinal), swelling, toothache, vertigo, whooping cough, wounds.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older):

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for skunk cabbage. In general, 0.5-1 milligrams of powdered rhizome/root, three times daily mixed with honey or by infusion or decoction has been traditionally used. A liquid extract (1:1 in 25% alcohol) 0.5-1 milliliters or tincture (1:10 in 45% alcohol) 2-4 milliliters three times daily has also been traditionally used.

Children (younger than 18 years):

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for skunk cabbage in children, and use is not recommended.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to skunk cabbage (Symplocarpusfoetidus) or any of its constituents. When applied on the skin, the fresh plant may cause severe itching, inflammation, and blistering. Skin hives, rash, and itchy or swollen skin have been reported.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Skunk cabbage is possibly safe when used as food and taken by mouth as boiled leaves, roots, and stalks.
  • Large amounts of skunk cabbage taken by mouth may cause nausea, vomiting, headache, vertigo, and dimness of vision. It may aggravate gastrointestinal ulcers, gastrointestinal inflammation or cause irritation, abdominal cramps, burning, blistering in the mouth and throat, colic, and watery or bloody diarrhea. When applied on the skin, the fresh plant may cause severe itching, inflammation, and blistering. Skin hives, rash, and itchy or swollen skin have been reported. Skunk cabbage may alter the menstrual cycle; uterine contractions due to irritant properties have been reported. Breathing problems, tightness in the throat or chest, and chest pain have also been reported with use of skunk cabbage.
  • Skunk cabbage should be used cautiously in individuals with a history of oxalate kidney stones, as the calcium oxalate in the plant may irritate the kidney or promote kidney stones in sensitive individuals. Also use cautiously in patients with gastrointestinal ulcers, inflammation or irritation, as skunk cabbage may aggravate these conditions.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Skunk cabbage is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence. Skunk cabbage may alter the menstrual cycle; uterine contractions may occur due to irritant properties.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • Skunk cabbage may cause drowsiness or increase the risk of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include benzodiazepines such lorazepam (Ativan®) or diazepam (Valium®), barbiturates such as phenoarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Due to the oxalate content of skunk cabbage, concomitant use may reduce mineral absorption of iron, calcium or zinc. Caution is advised.
  • Skunk cabbage may cause drowsiness or increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Berthold DA, Fluke DJ, Siedow JN. Determination of molecular mass of the aroid alternative oxidase by radiation-inactivation analysis. Biochem.J 5-15-1988;252(1):73-77.
  2. Berthold DA, Siedow JN. Partial purification of the cyanide-resistant alternative oxidase of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) mitochondria. Plant Physiol 1993;101(1):113-119.
  3. Bown D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. 1995.
  4. Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. 1996.
  5. Ito T, Ito K. Nonlinear dynamics of homeothermic temperature control in skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. Phys Rev E Stat.Nonlin.Soft.Matter Phys 2005;72(5 Pt 1):051909.
  6. Onda Y, Ito K. Changes in the composition of xylem sap during development of the spadix of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). Biosci.Biotechnol.Biochem. 2005;69(6):1156-1161.
  7. Weiner MA. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. 1980.
  8. Whang WK, Lee MT. New flavonol glycosides from leaves of Symplocarpus renifolius. Arch Pharm Res 1999;22(4):423-429.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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