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Prickly Ash

Zanthoxylum americanum

Angelica Tree
Prickly Ash
Toothache Tree

Parts used
Habitat and cultivation
How much to take

Herbs gallery - prickly ash.

This tall shrub, or rarely a small tree, can reach heights of over 20 feet. Prickly ash is characterized by thorny sterns and branches and leaves that are hairy when young, smooth when older with resinous dots on them and emitting the smell of lemon when crushed. The greenish flowers, in clusters on last year's wood, appear before the leaves. They are followed by reddish brown, rough capsules containing black seed or seeds, the taste of which is spicy. Prickly ash is found from Canada to Virginia and Nebraska.

When American Indians had a toothache, they often sought relief from prickly ash, also known as the toothache tree. They either chewed the bark or used it in pulverized form. Constantine Rafinesque, a European naturalist studying medicinal plants in America in 1830, pointed out that it did not work for him: "I have ascertained on myself, the burning sensation which it produces on the mouth, merely mitigating the other pain, which returns afterwards." But the Indians had other uses for the tree, which they shared with settlers. They made a poultice of the bark mixed with bear grease for external sores and used the liquid obtained from boiling the bark to treat a range of illnesses, from gonorrhea to sore throat to rheumatism. Dr. Jacob Bigelow, author of the three-volume American Medical Botany (1817-1820), wrote of the plant: "Many physicians place great reliance on its powers in rheumatic complaints so that apothecaries generally give it a place in their shops." Today herbalists still specify prickly ash bark and berries as a remedy for rheumatism.

The closely related southern prickly ash tree (Z. clava-herculis), also known as Hercules' club, reportedly has many of the same medicinal properties as Z. americanum.


Bark, berries.


North American herb - Prickly ash was a Native North American remedy for toothache and rheumatism. Prickly ash was used in the US during the 19th century as a circulatory stimulant and to treat arthritis. The bark was listed in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States from 1820 to 1926.
Arthritic conditions - Western herbalists regard prickly ash as a prime remedy for rheumatic and arthritic problems. Prickly ash stimulates blood flow to painful and stiff joints, promoting the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the area and removing waste products.
Circulation - Prickly ash improves the circulation in both  intermittent claudication and Raynaud's disease, conditions where the arteries of the limbs have narrowed, preventing sufficient blood reaching the hand or leg muscles.
Other medical uses - Dry Mouth, Tooth decay, Toxic shock syndrome. Prickly ash relieves gas and diarrhea and tones the digestion. Prickly ash is applied topically to treat leg ulcers and chronic pelvic inflammatory disease.


Prickly ash is native to southern Canada and northern, central, and western parts of the US, preferring moist, shady sites, such as woodlands. Prickly ash is propagated from seed in autumn. The bark is harvested in spring, and the berries are collected in summer.


- Alkaloids (chelerythrine)
- Herclavin
- Lignans (asarinin)
- Neoherculin
- Tannins
- Resins
- Volatile oil


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 2 - 4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

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