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Posted by on Aug 14, 2015 in Tell Me Why |

What Is Skunk Cabbage?

What Is Skunk Cabbage?

Skunk cabbage isn’t actually cabbage, but it’s a real stinker. This wild plant grows in moist woodlands and swamps in many parts of North America. Skunk cabbage gets its name because it has a strong smell like that of a skunk, and its large leaves somewhat resemble a cabbage.

Its strong smell comes from the brown, leaf like part that surrounds the spiky flowers. You may find two common types: Eastern skunk cabbage, which is purple and Western skunk cabbage, which is yellow.

This unusual plant sprouts very early in the spring, and has an odd chemistry that creates its own heat, often melting the snow around itself as it first sprouts in the spring.

Much like a warm-blooded mammal, the wildflower can regulate its temperature well above the outside temperature throughout the day and night. This attribute also allows the skunk cabbage to melt its way above the frozen ground.

The skunk cabbage plant may be unusual, and stinky, but it is also quite interesting and uses for skunk cabbage in the garden could actually be beneficial. If you’re having a hard time attracting pollinators or beneficial wasps, mixing a few skunk cabbage plants in with the rest of your garden may be a good solution.

Skunk cabbage plant has such a strong smell that no animal will eat it. If squirrels are eating your corn or raccoons get into your tomatoes, the scent of skunk cabbage may be enough to keep them away, allowing you to harvest food without bite marks. Some spiders and lizards even live under this smelly plant to catch flies and other insects that are attracted by the odor.

The leaf, flower and root contain crystalline shards of calcium oxalate that can irritate the mucosa in the mouth and throat.  It should never be eaten raw.  Traditional cooking recipes recommend changing the water several times to boil out the calcium oxalate.

Overdose can cause gastric irritation, nausea, and diarrhea. In two small bites, the skunk cabbage plant can cause burning and swelling of the mouth and a choking sensation. Eating larger portions of these leaves can, in extreme cases, be fatal.

Content for this question contributed by Alicia Immekus, resident of, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA