This genus of about 250 species of spiny, deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs occurs worldwide in warm temperate and subtropical regions. Many species are cultivated in various parts of the world for wood, and for medicinal and culinary purposes. Most prickly ashes contain benzophenanthridine alkaloids, such as chelerythrine, and effective anti-microbial, and sanguinarine, and anti-inflammatory and dental plague inhibitor that also occurs in Sanguinaria canadensis (See, Bloodroot). Zanthoxylum americanum is a traditional native N American remedy for toothache and was introduced to mainstream medicine in 1894 by John Nash, an Eclectic physician, who used it to treat typhus and cholera epidemics. In the C and S USA it is replaced by Z. clavaherculis (southern prickly ash). Many other prickly ashes have medicinal and culinary uses. Fruits of Z. acanthopodium are sold as a spice in Sikkim. Various parts of Z. armatum (Winged prickly ash), which grows from Kashmir to SE Asia, are used to clean teeth and relieve toothache, and for poisoning fish; the seeds and young leaves are used in seasonings in China and India. Zanthoxylum schinifolium and Z. simulans are used interchangeably with Z. piperitum as hua jiao in Chinese medicine. Zanthoxylum is from the Greek xanthos, "yellow", and xylon, "wood", referring to the yellow wood of certain species.

Small, multi-branched tree with gray knobby bark, stout thorns, and sweetly aromatic, pinnate leaves, divided into 9-17 ovate, bluntly toothed leaflets, 2-4cm (¾-1½in) long, which have transluscent oil glands along the margins. Clusters of inconspicuous, pale green, scented flowers appear in summer, followed by red-brown fruits, 5mm (¼in) across, that split open when ripe to reveal shiny black seeds.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Small Knobwood, umnumgwana
Botanical Name:
Zanthoxylum capense syn Fagara capensis
Native Location:
Easter and northern S Africa.
Fertile soil in sun or shade. Remove dead wood (which is prone to coral spot fungus) and cut back in late winter or early spring.
By seed sown in autumn; by root cuttings in late winter.
Leaves (Z. piperitum) are picked during the growing season and used fresh. Bark is stripped in spring and dried for use in decoctions, liquid extracts, and tinctures. Fruits are collected in summer and dried for use in decoctions and liquid extracts.
5-10m (15-30ft)
5-10m (15-30ft)
Parts Used:
Bark, Leaves, Fruits
A warming, aromatic, antiseptic herb that reduces inflammation, lowers fever, relieves indigestion, and has painkilling effects.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for stomach upsets, diarrhea, flatulence, colic, cramps, intestinal parasites, tuberculosis, bronchitis, paralysis, epilepsy, and snakebite. Externally for minor injuries, infected sores, insect bites, muscular aches and pains, lumbago, sciatica, toothache, and as a mouthwash for oral hygiene and dental or gum and mouth inflammations. Also used to treat anthrax in cattle, and to make anthrax-infected meat safe for consumption.
Economic Uses:
Leaves added to potpourris.
The Encyclopedia or Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg. 409