Skunk Cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus

Herbs gallery - Skunk Cabbage

Common names

  • Skunk Cabbage

The skunk cabbage is a perennially growing tuberous plant that has plump rootstock giving rise to covered, stout and oval-shaped barbs bearing petite purple hued blooms. The flowers normally blossom between the later parts of winter to early spring before the skunk cabbage leaves begin to appear. Usually, the skunk cabbage plant grows up to a height of 40 cm or 16 inches and produces leaves that have a heart-shape appearance. The skunk cabbage is named so because its leaves look a lot like the leaves of the cabbage.

The plant is indigenous to the United States and found in plenty in swampy places in the northern and central parts of the country. The entire skunk cabbage plant has an intense fetid smell largely depending on the unstable determinant and the smell is normally degenerated by heat instantly. The tuber or rhizome of the plant needs to be harvested during autumn or in the early parts of spring. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that the rhizome should not be maintained for a single season because it gets worse with age and dehydration. In the market, skunk cabbage rhizomes are available in tubular parts that are usually two inches or little more in length and measure one inch in diameter. More frequently, the skunk cabbage rhizomes are found in slanting slivers that are compacted and ridged. The rhizomes have a dark brown hue on the exterior and are white or yellowish inside. In fact, compared to the roots of the plant, the seeds of the skunk cabbage are considered to be more vigorous and are able to conserve their valuable features for longer periods. The skunk cabbage roots have a pungent flavour and give out a foul smell when they are battered or crushed open. However, when decoctions are prepared with the plant's roots, it does not retain the pungent flavour.

The pungent smelling roots of the skunk cabbage have been a popular conventional cure for bronchitis, tight coughs and phlegm or catarrh. Several herbal medical practitioners recommend the skunk cabbage to treat nervous disorders as it is said to have moderate sedative or tranquilizing properties. In earlier times, an indigenous tribe of America also breathed in the aroma of the mashed skunk cabbage leaves to get relief from headaches.

Parts used

Roots, seed, leaves.


The skunk cabbage has several medicinal uses, including anti-spasmodic, expectorant (medicine for coughs), diaphoretic (a sweat inducing agent) and narcotic. However, when medicines prepared with skunk cabbage are taken in large measures, it leads to queasiness or nausea, vomiting, headache, vertigo and even blurriness of sight. Although there is no scientific evidence to prove the claims, many herbal medical practitioners assert that they have successfully used the plant parts and extracts to heal incessant catarrh, asthma, chronic rheumatism (stiffness of body parts), chorea (jerky spasmodic movements caused by diseases), hysteria as well as dropsy (build up of excessive fluids in tissues). Moreover, the plant is said to help in curing epilepsy (disorder of the brain) and seizures, and have beneficial effects when ingested during pregnancy and child birth. The skunk cabbage also comprises an important component of many familiar herbal balms and powders. When the plant parts or extracts are applied outwardly as a balm, among other things, it motivates granulations or formation of healing tissues and also provides relief from aches and soreness.

The powder of the skunk roots may be ingested individually or blended with honey. Normally, half to four ounces of honey is used for this purpose. However, using a saturated or soaked tincture prepared with fresh skunk cabbage roots is most effective.

The native Indians of North America extensively used skunk cabbage basically for the plant's expectorant as well as antispasmodic attributes, which are helpful in treating conditions like asthma and bronchitis. Even to this day, contemporary herbalists use this herb for similar therapeutic purposes. However, it is advisable to exercise caution while employing this plant and it should always be used under the administration of a professional herbal practitioner. It may be noted that dealing with the fresh skunk cabbage leaves may result in formation of blisters on the skin, while using large doses of the plant's roots may lead to headaches, vomiting, queasiness and dizziness.

The root of skunk cabbage possesses diaphoretic, antispasmodic, emetic, diuretic, expectorant and somewhat narcotic properties. The rootstock of this herb has been employed internally to treat respiratory as well as nervous problems, counting whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis, catarrh and hay fever. The rootstock is infrequently used for curing vertigo as well as rheumatic complaints. It is also used externally in the form of a poultice to pull out thorns and splinters, to cure headaches and also to heal injuries. The rootlets or root hairs of skunk cabbage are applied to the dental cavities for treating toothache. The root hairs are also used to prepare a tea that is used topically to stop hemorrhages. The bases of skunk cabbage leaves too have been applied in the form of a damp dressing to bruises.

Culinary uses

Skunk cabbage also has culinary utilities. For instance, the root of this herb is consumed after cooking. However, it is important to cook or dry out the root carefully prior to consumption. Traditionally, people used to dry the root for a minimum period of five days or simmered for at least three days prior to consumption. The tender leaves of skunk cabbage are also eaten after cooking and they possesse a spicy or pepper-like essence. While cooking the leaves of skunk cabbage, it is essential to change the water no less than once. In addition, it is also important to cook the leaves thoroughly.

Habitat and cultivation

As mentioned earlier, the skunk cabbage herb is indigenous to the United States. Skunk cabbage likes growing in damp places.

Skunk cabbage does well both in sunny as well as shady locations when the soil condition varies from extremely damp to wet, but free of lime. In addition, the soil needs to be rich in organic content. This plant grows excellently in swampy gardens or the length of damp banks of ponds and streams. Skunk cabbage is an extremely resilient herb that has the aptitude to endure temperatures as low as -35°C. Every part of this plant, particularly the blossoms, possesses a potently horrible smell which is described as a blend of skunk, garlic and carrion. Skunk cabbage plants may increase the temperature of their flowering parts by approximately 15°C to 35°C over the temperature of the air in the surrounding area. By raising the temperature of the air in the vicinity, the plant not only shields itself from frost, but also facilitates in drawing pollinating insects.

The skunk cabbage herb is mainly propagated by its seeds, which are most suitably sown in a cold frame immediately after they mature. In case the seeds are not being sown right away, they need to be stored in water. Seeds that have been stored in water may be sown sometime during the late winter or early part of spring. The cold frame in which the skunk seeds are sown should be placed in a pot having a minimum of 2 cm of standing water with a view to help the compost remain damp. Usually, the seeds germinate during the spring. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently big to be handled, prick them individually and place them in separate pots. For the first year, especially the first winter, of their existence, the young plants ought to be grown in damp soil in a light shady locale in a greenhouse. The plants may be transplanted into their permanent positions outdoors in late spring when they have grown sufficiently large.

Alternately, sometimes skunk cabbage is also propagated by the root division method. It may be noted that additional care should be adopted while undertaking the root division when the plant is inactive or dormant.


Chemical analysis of the skunk cabbage has established that the herb encloses certain natural and non-volatile (fixed) oil, wax, starch, fat, volatile or unstable oil, salts of lime and minerals such as iron, manganese and silica.

Side effects and cautions

Skunk cabbage is a toxic plant. The report regarding the toxicity of the plant perhaps talks about the occurrence of calcium oxylate in every part of skunk cabbage. In effect calcium oxylate is poisonous and when consumed, it results in a sensation in the mouth as well as the digestive tract as if several hundred needles have been stuck in these places. Nevertheless, it is possible to wipe out calcium oxylate without much difficulty and by means of cooking or drying up the plant. On the other hand, exposure to the skunk cabbage roots is likely to cause tingling and inflammation. And contact with the fresh skunk cabbage plant may also result in blisters on the skin. This herb should be avoided by pregnant women and nursing mothers. Even people suffering from kidney stones should avoid using skunk cabbage.

Collection and harvesting

The rootstock of skunk cabbage is collected during the later part of autumn or in early spring, dried up and stored for use when needed. However, this herb should not be stored for a prolonged period since it will lose much of its therapeutic properties.


©2002-2023 herbs2000.com