What is ancient, stinky, makes its own heat, creeps, and has a large spadix? No it is not your Grandfather. These are the characteristics of the Skunk Cabbage plant!
Skunk Cabbage, also known as “Swamp Lantern” is found across North America. It grows along streams and wetlands where the ground is muddy and soft.
The plant gives off a foul smell that resembles putrid rotting flesh. This is ironic since the Skunk Cabbage is actually in the Lilly Family of flowers. The odor is needed to promote pollination by insects and bees. The smell also discourages most critters from eating it. The Oxalate crystals in the leaves and plant cause the mouth and tongue to burn. Black Bears eat the Skunk Cabbage anyway.
These ancient plants are “Thermogenic”. They are able to emit warmth and control their own heat. This allows them to keep snow and ice away from them in early spring helping them to be the first to bloom. The Skunk Cabbage can melt its way out of the snow.
Due to its “Contractile roots”, the Skunk Cabbage can dig itself deeper or move itself to a new location. Young plants have shorter roots and fewer leaves. Scientists believe that this unique plant can live for thousands of years!
Native peoples used the large leaves of this plant as their wax paper or aluminum foil. They would wrap it around fish, meat, or pemmican for transport or cooking. Placing a Skunk Cabbage leaf wrapped fish onto the coals of a fire was a great way to cook them. The leaves could also serve as paper plates for serving.
The Spadix is a large fleshy spike that contains a dense layer of flowers on it. It protrudes from the base of the hooded leaves and gives off an attractive aroma. Iroquois Indians would wave the Spadix or seeds over a woman’s genitals to promote pregnancy.
Eating Skunk Cabbage is practiced but not perfect. It is considered a starvation food at best. The roots and plant can make a tea, poultice, or serve as a laxative.
So if you are starving, want to get pregnant, or need a laxative, Skunk Cabbage could be just what the Doctor ordered!