Prickly Ash

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.

Also known as the toothache tree, this small deciduous aromatic shrub native to eastern North America was a favorite of Native Americans for easing the pain of toothache and rheumatism. The herb's aromatic bitter oil, which contains xanthoxylin, has cleansing, stimulating, diaphoretic, and antirheumatic properties.

Deciduous shrub or small tree with spiny branches and pinnately divided leaves. Small, yellow-green flowers appear before the new leaves in spring, followed by clusters of tiny black fruits.

Common Name:
Prickly Ash
Other Names:
Northern Prickly Ash, Southern Prickly Ash, Toothache Tree, Yellow Wood
Botanical Name:
Zanthoxylum americanum (northern), Zanthoxylum clavoherculus (southern)
Native Location:
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.
4-8m (12-25ft)
6m (20ft)
Parts Used:
Bark, Fruits, root bark, berry
Chemical Constituents:
  • Acid amide
  • Asarinin
  • Berberine
  • Herculin
  • Xanthoxyletin
  • Xanthyletin
  • Known Effects:
  • Stimulates and irritates gastrointestinal tract
  • Increases perspiration
  • Possible Additional Effects:
  • May stimulate appetite
  • May treat arthritis
  • May decrease flatulence
  • Properties:
    A spicy, warming, stimulant herb that relieves pain, lowers fever, stimulates the circulation, improves digestion, controls diarrhea, and is anti-rheumatic.
    Medicinal Uses:
    Internally for rheumatic and arthritic complaints, lumbago, toothache, fevers, peripheral circulatory problems, abdominal chills, diarrhea, indigestion, and chronic skin conditions. Externally for chronic joint pain and rheumatism. Combined with Myrica cerifera (See, Bayberry) and Zingiber officinale (See, Ginger) for circulatory insufficiency; with Actaea racemosa (See, Black Cohosh) for tinnitus; and with Capsicum annuum (See, Sweet Bell Pepper), Guaiacum officinale (See, Guaiac), and Menyanthes trifoliata (See, Bog Bean) for rheumatic complaints.
    To treat blood pressure, fever, inflammation, rheumatic disorders, and gastrointestinal ailments.
    Typical Dose:
    A typical dose of northern prickly ash in tincture form is approximately 5 ml (1:5 dilution in 45 percent alcohol), taken three times daily.
    Possible Side Effects:
    Northern prickly ash's side effects include nausea, vomiting, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions, and photosensitivity (skin sensitivity to sunlight).
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects, or Overdose Symptoms
    Signs and Symptoms What to Do

    Diarrhea Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Nausea or Vomiting Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Drug Interactions:
    Taking northern prickly ash with these drugs may increase the risk of bleeding and bruising:
    Aminosalicylic Acid, (Nemasol Sodium, Paser)
    Antithrombin III, (Thrombate III)
    Argatroban, (Argatroban)
    Aspirin, (Bufferin, Ecotrin)
    Bivalirudin, (Angiomax)
    Choline Magnesium Trisalicylate, (Trilisate)
    Choline Salicylate, (Teejel)
    Dalteparin, (Fragmin)
    Danaparoid, (Orgaran)
    Enoxaparin, (Lovenox)
    Fondaparinux, (Arixtra)
    Heparin, (Hepalean, Hep-Lock)
    Lepirudin, (Refludan)
    Salsalate, (Amgesic, Salflex)
    Tinzaparin, (Innohep)
    Warfarin, (Coumadin, Jantoven)
    Taking northern prickly ash with these drugs may interfere with the absorption of the drug:
    Ferric Gluconate, (Ferrlecit)
    Ferrous Fumarate, (Femiron, Feostat)
    Ferrous Gluconate, (Fergon, Novo-Ferrogluc)
    Ferrous Sulfate, (Feratab, Fer-Iron)
    Ferrous Sulfate and Ascorbic Acid, (FeroGrad 500, Vitelle Irospan)
    Iron-Dextran Complex, (Dexferrum, INFeD)
    Polysaccharide-Iron Complex, (Hytinic, Niferex)
    Disease Effects:
    May worsen inflammatory or infectious gastrointestinal ailments by irritating the gastrointestinal tract.
    Supplement Interactions:
    Increased risk of bleeding when used with herbs and supplements that might affect platelet aggregation.
    Warnings and Precautions:
    Don't take if you:
  • Are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future
  • Have any chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, reflux esophagitis, ulcerative colitis, spastic colitis, diverticulosis, or diverticulitis

  • Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs, including aspirin, laxatives, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs

  • Pregnancy:
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Don't use unless prescribed by your doctor.
    Infants and Children:
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
    None are expected if you are beyond childhood, under 45, not pregnant, basically healthy, take it only a short time and do not exceed manufacturer's recommended dose.
  • Store in cool, dry area away from direct light, but don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Don't store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe Dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    The Encyclopedia or Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg. 409
    The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD. Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp. 349-350
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith Copyright©1998 Fisher Books Pp. 420-421