Skunk Cabbage

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Edible Plants, Pacific Northwest

Skunk Cabbage, Pacific Northwest
Skunk Cabbage, Photo By Bud Logan

A skunk scented perennial plant up to 50 cm tall, it is a member of the arum family. It has large, cabbage like leaves, surrounding a bright yellow flower along with a disagreeable smell. ( I kinda like it though) The large tuberous root stock produces fleshy roots and heart shaped, cabbage like leaves on thick leafstalks. Numerous small, purple flowers grow on a small, oval, fleshy spike covered by a purple and yellowish green, hood.

Flowering time is from February to April, before the leaves appear. The whole plant emits a skunk or garlic odor.

The unusual reddish green blooms of skunk cabbage are among the first wildflowers to appear in spring. February to May. Temperature within the flower is often 20 degrees c. higher than the ambient air, if the flower is covered by snow, the heat will melt it.

Marginally edible at best, skunk cabbage contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause the most unpleasant burning sensation of the mouth and tongue. Boiling doesn’t dispel this quality. The plant has far more uses medicinally.

It is edible though and has been eaten throughout the centuries during times of famine.

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