Prickly Ash

By A. Barra (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Zanthoxylum americanum-Prickly Ash

Famiy: Rutaceae

Other names: Tootheache Tree, Northern Prickly Ash, Thylax fraxineum, Zanthoxylum fraxineum, Zanthoxylum fraxinifolium, Zanthoxylum mite.

Habitat: Canada and the USA. Found on upland rocky hillsides and on moist low-lying sites, in open woods, on bluffs or in thickets.

hazardsmallTannins may reduce gut iron absorption. Possible nervous system stimulation. Excessive ingestion may interfere with anticoagulant therapy.

Prickly ash is a warming, stimulating  medicinal herb that is beneficial for the circulation. It was highly regarded by the native North American Indians who used it especially to alleviate rheumatism and toothache. All parts of the plant, but especially the bark and roots, contain the aromatic bitter oil xanthoxylin. Prickly Ash Bark has a number of applications in medicine, especially in the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions, digestive problems and leg ulcers. The fruit has a similar medicinal action to the bark. The bark and roots are irritant, odontalgic and anti-rheumatic  Along with the fruit they are diaphoretic, stimulant and a useful tonic in debilitated conditions of the stomach and digestive organs. They produce arterial excitement and are of use in the treatment of fevers, ague, poor circulation etc. The fruits are considered more active than the bark, they are also antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic and anti-rheumatic. The pulverized root and bark are used to ease the pain of toothache. One report says that it is very efficacious, but the sensation of the acrid bark is fully as unpleasant as the toothache. Chewing the bark induces copious salivation. Rubbing the fruit against the skin, especially on the lips or in the mouth, produces a numbing effect. A tea or tincture of the bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, dyspepsia, dysentery, heart and kidney troubles etc. Prickly Ash Bark Tea made from the inner bark has been used to treat itchy skin.

By A. Barra (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Prickly Ash:

Zanthoxylum americanum; Prickly Ash, is a deciduous Shrub growing to 4 m (13ft) by 4 m (13ft).
It is hardy to zone 3. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Cultivation of Prickly Ash:

Prefers a good deep well-drained moisture retentive soil in full sun or semi-shade. A relatively fast-growing plant in the wild, it often forms thickets by means of root suckers. All parts of the plant are fragrant. The bruised foliage has a delicious resinous orange-like perfume. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Flowers are formed on the old wood.

Propagation of Prickly Ash:

Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Stored seed may requires up to 3 months cold stratification, though scarification may also help. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Germination should take place in late spring, though it might take another 12 months. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers, removed in late winter and planted into their permanent positions.

Collection: The berries are collected in late summer and the bark is stripped from the stems of this shrub in the spring.

Culinary uses of Prickly Ash:

Edible Parts:
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Seed – cooked. It is used as a condiment. A pepper substitute. The fruit is rather small, about 4 – 5m in diameter, but is produced in dense clusters which makes harvesting easy. Each fruit contains a single seed

prickly_ash,Zanthoxylum_americanumMedicinal uses of Prickly Ash:

Actions: Stimulant (circulatory), tonic, alterative, carminative,diaphoretic, anti-rheumatic, hepatic.

Part Used: The bark and berries.

Indications: Prickly Ash may be used in a way that is similar to Cayenne, although it is slower in action. It is used in many chronic problem such a rheumatism and skin diseases. Any sign of poor circulation calls for the use of this herb, such as chilblainscramp in the leg, varicose veins and varicose ulcers. Externally it may be used as a stimulation liniment for rheumatism and fibrositis. Due to its stimulating effect upon the lymphatic system, circulation and mucous membranes, it will have a role in the holistic treatment of many specific conditions.

Priest & Priest tell us that it is “positive diffusive stimulant -induces free arterial/capillary circulation, restores vascular tone. It is a general stimulant for relaxed and feeble conditions and atonic digestive states. An excellent tonic and alterative for convalescence and the elderly.”They give the following specific indications: chronic rheumatic conditionsneurasthenia and poor circulation; gastric distension,eructations and flatulence; loss of sensitivity in injured nerves.

Ellingwood considered it specific for “lack of tone in the nervous system, a general torpidity with sluggish circulation. Also in enervation and relaxation of mucous membranes, with imperfect circulation, or hypersecretion.It is thus valuable in catarrhal conditions of any mucous surface, as it restores the tone and normal functional activity.”

King’s Dispensatory gives these specific indications: “(in the smaller doses) in hypersecretion from debility and relaxation of mucous tissues; atonicity of the nervous system (larger doses); in capillary engorgement in the exanthemata, sluggish circulation, tympanites in bowel complaints, intestinal and gastric torpor (with deficient secretion), dryness of the mucous membrane of mouth and fauces (with glazed, glossy surfaces), flatulent colic, Asiatic cholera, uterine cramps, and neuralgia. For the painful bowel disorders, the preparations of the berries are to be preferred. 

Preparations & Dosage of Prickly Ash:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the bark and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Combinations: May be used in many different situations.

Other uses of Prickly Ash:
my_Prickly_ash_ fairy
Esoteric uses of Prickly Ash:

Magickal uses include safe travel, fertility, removing spells and breaking hexes.

The Chemistry:



* Alkaloids: [[gamma]]-fagarine, [[beta]]-fagarine(-skimmianine), magnoflorine, laurifoline, nitidine, chelerythrine,tambetarine and candicine

* Coumarins: xanthyletin, zanthoxyletin, alloxanthyletin

* Resin, tannin, volatile oil.

Previous articleAs the summer ends, what will happen to my herb garden? What can I do to make sure they come back?
Next articleRaspberry