We have recently published ‘Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions’: i.e. tropical and sub-tropical regions. We rely on regular donations to keep our free database going and help fund development of this and another book we are planning on food forest plants for Mediterranean climates. Please give what you can to keep PFAF properly funded. More >>>

Follow Us:


Symplocarpus foetidus - (L.)Salisb. ex W.P.C.Barton.

Common Name Skunk Cabbage
Family Araceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards The plant is poisonous[19]. This report probably refers to the presence of calcium oxylate in all parts of the plant. This substance is toxic and if consumed makes the mouth and digestive tract feel as though hundreds of needles are being stuck into it. However, calcium oxylate is easily destroyed by thoroughly cooking or drying the plant[172]. Itching and inflammation possible with root contact. Fresh plant can cause blisters. Avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding. Avoid with kidney stones [301].
Habitats Marshes, bogs, swampy woods and by streams[43].
Range Eastern N. America - Nova Scotia to Manitoba, south to Georgia.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (1 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Symplocarpus foetidus Skunk Cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus Skunk Cabbage


Translate this page:


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Symplocarpus foetidus is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.5 m (1ft 8in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 4 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from February to April, and the seeds ripen from August to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Dracontium foetidum. Ictodes foetidus. Pothos foetidus. Spathyema foetida.

Plant Habitats

 Bog Garden;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Root
Edible Uses:

Root - cooked[46, 55, 61, 106, 161]. The root must be thoroughly dried or cooked before being eaten, see notes above on toxicity. Traditionally the root was dried for at least 5 weeks or boiled for 3 days before being eaten[159]. Young leaves - cooked[105, 106, 161]. A peppery flavour[159]. The water should be changed at least once during the cooking process[55, 159]. The leaves must be thoroughly cooked, see notes on toxicity above.

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antispasmodic  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Emetic  Epilepsy  Expectorant  Narcotic  Odontalgic

Skunk cabbage was much used by the native North American Indians primarily for its expectorant and antispasmodic properties to treat bronchitis and asthmatic conditions, a use that is still employed in modern herbalism[254]. The plant should be used with some caution, however, and preferably under professional supervision. Handling the fresh leaves can cause skin to blister whilst excessive doses of the root can bring on nausea and vomiting, headaches and dizziness[238, 254]. The root is antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and slightly narcotic[4, 21, 46, 165, 222, 238]. The rootstock is harvested in late autumn or early spring and dried for later use[238]. It should not be stored for a long time because it loses its medicinal virtues[213]. The rootstock has been used internally in the treatment of respiratory and nervous disorders, including asthma, whooping cough, catarrh, bronchitis and hay fever[213, 238]. It is occasionally used to treat epilepsy, headaches, vertigo and rheumatic problems[254]. Externally, it has been used as a poultice to draw splinters and thorns, to heal wounds and to treat headaches[254]. The root hairs or rootlets have been applied to dental cavities to treat toothache[213]. A tea made from the root hairs has been used externally to stop bleeding[213]. An inhalation of the crushed leaves has been used in the treatment of headaches[238]. The leaf bases have been applied as a wet dressing to bruises[213].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Tropical Plants

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
Edible Temperate Plants

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital media.
More Books

PFAF have eight books available in paperback and digital formats. Browse the shop for more information.

Shop Now

Other Uses


An infusion of the powdered root has been used as a wash to 'cure a strong smell under your arm'[257].

Special Uses

Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Succeeds in sun or shade in a deep moist to wet lime-free soil that is rich in organic matter[200]. Grows well in a bog garden or along the wet banks of streams and ponds[1, 238]. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to at least -35°c[238]. All parts of the pant, but especially the flowers, have a strong unpleasant aroma[4, 187] that is said to be a combination of skunk, carrion and garlic[245]. The plant can raise the temperature of its inflorescence by 15 - 35°c above the ambient air temperature, thus protecting itself from frost and helping to attract pollinating insects[200, 238].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

Shop Now

Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[200]. The seed should be stored in water if it is not sown immediately[238]. Stored seed can be sown in late winter or early spring. Stand the pot in 2cm of water to keep the compost wet. Germination should take place in the spring, prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle and grow them on in wet soil in light shade in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring once they are large enough. Division with great care whilst the plant is dormant[200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

TEMPERATE ASIA: Russian Federation (Habarovskij kraj, Primorye, Sakhalin), China (Heilongjiang Sheng), Japan NORTHERN AMERICA: Canada (Québec (south), Nova Scotia, Ontario (south), New Brunswick), United States (Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa (east), Minnesota (east), Wisconsin, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee)

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Symplocarpus renifolius Perennial0.5 4-8  LMHSNMWe10 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(L.)Salisb. ex W.P.C.Barton.

Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Symplocarpus foetidus  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.