By Nancy Covert
Taken from a Wikipedia definition: Lysichiton americanus, better known as Western Skunk cabbage, Yellow Skunk Cabbage or Swamp Lantern, is a plant found in swamps and wet woods, along streams and in other wet areas of the Pacific Northwest where it is one of the few native species in the arum family.
Its distinctive name comes from the “skunky” odor that it emits. This odor will permeate the area where the plant grows, and can be detected even in old, dried specimens.
Its aroma attracts pollinators, scavenging flies and beetles. The skunk cabbage is related to a similar variety that’s found in eastern North America.
While some consider the plant to be a weed, its roots are food for bears that eat it after hibernating as a laxative or cathartic. The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when almost all parts were eaten. The leaves have a somewhat spicy or peppery taste.
Caution should be used in attempts to prepare Western Skunk Cabbage for consumption, as it contains calcium oxylate crystals, which result in a gruesome prickling sensation on the tongue and throat and can result in intestinal irritation and even death if consumed in large quantities. Although the plant was not typically part of the diet under normal conditions, its large, waxy leaves were important to food preparation and storage. Leaves were commonly used to line berry baskets and to wrap around whole salmon and other foods when baked under a fire. It is also used to cure sores and swelling.