Herb Library

Back to Herb Menu     Back to Index

DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

a.k.a. Polecat Weed
(Symplocarpus foetidus)


CONTAINS: ROOT = Volatile oil, resins, a narcotic alkaloid, 5-hydroxytryptamine.

This skunk scented perennial of North America and northeast Asia is found in wet or swampy areas. Flowers appear before the leaves which are large and arise from a stout vertical rhizome and being ovate to cordate to 18 inches long and 12 inches wide. An inflated spathe appears (much like Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but larger) surrounding a spherical spadix which is stout, black and 3 to 6 inches long. Flowers are purplish-brown with greenish-yellow mottling and are bi-sexual with 4 stamens and 1-celled ovaries.

PROPAGATION:By SEED which is kept wet until autumn or spring sowing time; by DIVISION of established plants during dormancy.
NEEDS: Grown as an ornamental in deep, rich, acid soil under moist to wet conditions in sun or part shade; hardy to -30ºF. Is difficult to transplant.
HARVEST: Rhizomes and roots are lifted while the plants are dormant and used dried.
PART USED: Rhizomes, roots.


Pungent, fetid odor; warming, antispasmodic, sedative, expectorant, diuretic, increases perspiration.
The crushed leaves were inhaled by Native Americans for headaches; a decoction of the root hairs was used for external bleeding.
Has been used internally for bronchitis, asthma, hay fever, excess mucous, whooping cough, coughs; has sometimes been combined with Grindelia camporum and Euphorbia hirta for bronchitis and asthma.

©2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH