American Spikenard

Deciduous or evergreen trees, shrubs, lianas, and rhizomatous perennials make up this genus of about 40 species, distributed through S and E Asia, and N America. Aralia is a Latinized version of aralie, an old French-Canadian name for these plants. Several shrubby species are grown for their large, exotic-looking, compound leaves. Aralia racemosa is a handsome plant, suited to woodland conditions, as is the less ornamental A. nudicaulis. These N American aralias were adopted as medicinal herbs by settlers, who learned their uses from native tribes. The Ojibwa made poultices of A. racemosa and Asarum canadense (see wild ginger) for fractured limbs. The former was also used as a tea to ease childbirth and for menstrual irregularities. Various tribes took A. nudicaulis for coughs. Aralia spinosa (Hercules club) and A. hispida were also used as tonics and to increase perspiration. Aralia cordata (Japanese asparagus, or udo) has lemon-flavored new shoots that are blanched and eaten in salads and soups. In traditional Chinese medicine, A. chinensis (Chinese Angelica tree) is used as a warming, painkilling herb for rheumatoid arthritis.

Rhizamatous perennial with aromatic rootstock and compound leaves, to 75cm (30in) long. Tiny, green-white flowers are borne in umbels in summer followed by purple to brown fruits.

Common Name:
American Spikenard
Other Names:
Life of man
Botanical Name:
Aralia racemosa
Native Location:
N America.
Rich, moist soil in partial shade.
By seed sown in spring; by division in spring.
Rootstock is lifted in autumn and dried for use in liquid extracts, decoctions, infusions, powders, and poultices.
1-2.2m (3-7ft)
60cm-2m (2-6ft)
Parts Used:
Rhizomes, Roots
A sweet, pungent, tonic herb that acts as an alterative. It also lowers fever and has diuretic and expectorant effects.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for bronchial complaints, rheumatic disorders, gout, skin disease, and blood poisoning. Externally for sores and inflammations. Regarded as a rejuvenative in Ayurvedic medicine.
Culinary Uses:
Roots have a licorice flavor, used in root beer Berries are made into jelly.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 126