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Symplocarpus foetidus

Symplocarpus foetidus


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Skunk cabbage, Eastern Skunk Cabbage, Clumpfoot Cabbage, Foetid Pothos, Meadow Cabbage, Polecat Weed, Swamp Cabbage.


The flower of Symplocarus foetidus which commonly appears before the leaves, includes a bulbous or hood-shaped spathe, roughly 10-15 cm in length and ranges from deep purple to red in color. Inside the spathe is a smaller, white spadix, roughly 5-10 cm in length. The broad leaves, which flourish in summer, can grow up to 55 cm long and 40 cm wide. The tuberous rhizome can be 30 cm in diametre and the roots grow 8 cm deep.

Origin / Habitat

Most easily identified by its miasmal odor, S. foetidus is a large flowering plant found native to Eastern North America wetlands ranging from Canada to Florida.

Chemical Constituents

Calcium-oxalate, N-hydroxytryptamine, Resin, Tannin.(3)

Plant Part Used

Seeds, rhizomes, roots, leaves. (1),(2)

Traditional Use

S. foetidus has been used for numerous applications by many Native American tribes on the eastern half of the continent. Many of its uses are common themes spreading through tribes, while some of its uses are isolated to a single tribe. Most widely spreads are the uses of S. foetidus as either an anticonvulsive or a treatment for general respiratory disorders. S. foetidus is generally considered to have a stimulating, expectorant, antispasmodic, diuretic and narcotic effect on the body.(4)

S. foetidus has been used as an analgesic by people of the Delaware, Menominee, and Micmac tribes. In the Delaware tribe, a poultice made of leaves is used topically to relieve pain and swelling. The people of the Menominee tribe used the root to treat cramps. S. foetidus is also used by the peoples of the Micmac tribe to treat headache.

S. foetidus has been traditionally used as a treatment for rheumatism by two Native American tribes; the Abenaki and the Iroquois. While the Abenaki use the plant externally to treat symptoms of rheumatism, such as swelling, the Iroquois steamed the plant, believing the steam to relieve rheumatism.(5)

Numerous Native American tribes have used S. foetidus as an anticonvulsive. Epileptics in both the Delaware the Mohegan tribes chewed the leaves during epileptic episodes. In the Menominee tribe, the powdered root was used to a similar effect.

The use of S. foetidus as a treatment for cough or respiratory disorders ranges as far as its native habitat. The Chippewa people used a root infusion as a cough medicine, while the Delaware tribe used the same infusion more specifically in whooping cough. The infusion of the root has also been used by the Iroquois as a treatment for tuberculosis. The Nanticoke, however, used an infusion of the leaves to treat respiratory infections such as the cold.

S. foetidus has been used externally to treat wounds and swelling. The Iroquois believed that if the plant was applied to a bite wound, the teeth of the person or animal would fall out. A more practical usage, involving a poultice of dried root applied to a lesion or cut, was used by the Menominee tribe. The Meskwaki people used a poultice of the leaves to treat swelling.(6)

The Iroquois believed that a decoction of the seeds and aerial parts of S. foetidus was useful in treating “falling of the womb” or a prolapsed uterus. They also used a decoction of fresh stalks to treat womb displacement.(7)

The Menominee used a decoction of the roots from S. foetidus as a cardiotonic. They also used the root hairs as for its alleged haemostatic properties. The root hairs were also used by the Menominee tribe as a remedy for toothache.(8)

The Iroquois believed that the powdered root of this fetid plant could be used as an underarm wash to cure general body odor. The Iroquois also believed that S. foetidus to be useful in treatment of worms in their young.(2)


Dosages of the raw or powdered herb vary depending on the use of S. foetidus as well as the tribe which is using the plant.

Tincture: 1:10, 3 mL, three to four times per day or as directed.


Note: There are no clinical or pre-clinical studies on this plant in regard to how it may have been used as a medicinal treatment. Most of the studies on this plant are designed to further examine its unique ability to regulate its temperature thereby emerging even through the snow in early spring.(9),(10) However it was used extensively with Native American tribes in the eastern sections of North America and considered valuable to many tribes as a medicinal agent.

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

No documentation

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Due to the calcium oxalate content, this herb should not be used by those with kidney stones or kidney disease.(11)

May cause nausea or stomach distress.


Not to be used with children, pregnant or nursing women or those who plant on becoming pregnant. (11)

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation


  1. Thomson healthcare. PDR for herbal medicines. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc; 2007.
  2. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press; 2009.
  3. Phytochemical and ethnobotanical database. ARS. Available from [Accessed on June 22, 2009].
  4. Hutchens AR. Indian herbology of North America. Boston, MA: Shambala; 1991.
  5. Moerman D. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan. Available from  [Accessed on May 16, 2009].
  6. Tantaquidgeon G. Folk medicine of the Delaware and Algonkian Indians. Anthropological series 3. Pennsylvania Historical Society; 2001.
  7. Seivers AF. The herb hunter’s guide: American medicinal plants of commercial importance. US Department of Agriculture Special Report. Misc. Pub.; 1939. p. 77.
  8. Moerman D. Medicinal plants of Native America. University of Michigan Press; 1986.
  9. Ito K, Ito T, Onda Y, Uemura M. Temperature-triggered periodical thermogenic oscillations in skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). Plant Cell Physiol. 2004 Mar;45(3):257-264.
  10. Takahashi K, Ito T, Onda Y, Endo T, Chiba S, Ito K, Osada H. Modeling of the thermoregulation system in the skunk cabbage: Symplocarpus foetidus. Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2007 Sep;76(1):1-5.
  11. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American herbal products association's botanical safety handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1997:3.

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