Herb Reference Guide

Prickly Ash

History

The Prickly Ash tree is native to North America, where the bark of these American trees has been used as medicine for hundreds of years. The genus name, Zanthoxylum, is said to be derived from the Greek words, zanthos and xylum, meaning “yellow wood.” Eastern Native American tribes valued Prickly Ash Bark as a means to stimulate saliva flow and as a remedy for upset stomach, sore throats, aching muscles, skin infections and other conditions. Native Americans went on to share this knowledge with the new colonists. Eclectic physicians in the United States around the nineteenth century continued the traditional uses of Prickly Ash Bark, primarily as a digestive aid and to strengthen the nervous system.

Function

Prickly Ash's traditional use was to stimulate the body when it was feeling sluggish and still today plays an important role in this manner. Eclectic physicians used it in a similar way to Cayenne, but suggested that it is slower acting and longer lasting. Prickly ash is a great addition to a formula when a tonifying and supportive alterative is needed to rejuvenate the body. Prickly ash is often used to support normal circulation of blood in its vessels due to its inherent stimulatory effect on the body. As a result, it is often used as a supportive aid when more blood is needed in a certain area of the body. Because it supports blood flow in the body, prickly ash is also used to promote healthy joints, particularly when there is stagnant lymph that needs to re-circulated to promote optimal levels of inflammation.

Uses of Prickly Ash

Disclaimer

This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

The primary chemical constituents of Prickly Ash Bark include essential oils, fat, sugar, gum, alkaloids such as fagarine, magnoflorine, laurifoline, nitidine, chelerythrine, as well as tannins, coumarins and xanthoxylin, and the alkylamide Neoherculin.

Parts Used

  • Bark

Important precautions

This herb is contraindicated in pregnancy due to its stimulating properties. It should not be used by nursing women, and individuals with severe inflammation of the digestive system, or ulcers.

Additional Resources

Bafi-Yeboa NF, Arnason JT, Baker J, Smith ML. Antifungal constituents of northern prickly ash, Zanthoxylum americanum mill. Phytomedicine. 2005 May;12(5):370-7.

Gibbons S, Leimkugel J, Oluwatuyi M, Heinrich M. Activity of Zanthoxylum clava-herculis extracts against multi-drug resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (mdr-MRSA). Phytother Res. 2003 Mar;17(3):274-5.

Ju Y, Still CC, Sacalis JN, et al. Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum). Phytother Res. 2001 Aug;15(5):441-3.

Yang ZY, Pei J, Liu RM, et al. Study on enhancing bioavailability of paeoniflorin by combined use with Chinese herbs for inner-warming. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2005 Sep;25(9):822-4.

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr.