Plants and People Project

Skunk Cabbage - Symplocarpus Foetidus

Also called Skunk Weed, Pole Cat Weed, Meadow Cabbage, Hermit of the Bog, and Swamp Cabbage. The root has been used to treat several illnesses. The Herbalist

This plant's roots are poisonous! Eating the leaves can cause burning.

Native Americans used the skunk cabbage for many medicinal purposes. They also used the root as an underarm deodorant. The leaves were used as a poultice to stop swelling. Peterson Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants

"It is said to be helpful in epilepsy, and convulsions during pregnancy and labour. It is an ingredient in well-known herbal ointments and powders."

"A medicine made from the plant was used to treat hysteria, fits epilepsy and convulsions." Indian Herbology of North America

Skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. It is a favorite of bees. It blooms before the leaves unfold.

Black Bears eat the ripened flowers in the early spring. It helps them pass their bowels after the long winter hibernation. Oil Creek State Park Information film, Pennsylvania State Parks, Pennsylvani Cable Network, 2007.

"The spadix of the Skunk Cabbage produces enough heat through vigorous cellular respiration in the spring to maintain a temperature around 70 degrees F. The spathe helps maintain this by having many air spaces in it's walls, insulating it from the outside, as well as an opening that is designed to create a vortex inside with incoming air currents.. The heat generated from the spadix is enough to melt the surrounding snow and ice, making them easy to spot in a spring swamp." LAURENTIAN
Center Plant Key

"In late Spring, the Common Yellowthroat will sometimes build its nest in the hollow of large Skunk Cabbage leaves." Study of Northern Virginia Ecology (excellent images!)

"Early Swedish settlers in Pennsylvania gave skunk cabbage the name "bear-weed," since bears were known to feast on the buds and leaves." The Nature Institute


The flowers and crushed leaves give off a skunky scent.


DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT. 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. Be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Identification and other facts / More facts / PLANTS database

Skunk Cabbage Flower and leaf buds

skunk cabbage flower and leaf buds


skunk cabbage leaves

emerging leaves of skunk cabbage

Unfolding skunk cabbage leaves

Skunk cabbage ecology facts

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Posted 8/1/05 Cindy O'Hora, Students may use the images on this web page for class projects.