Common name: Prickly ash
Other names: Northern prickly ash, toothache tree
Latin name: Zanthoxylum americanum
Affinity: Musculoskeletal system, nervous system, circulatory system
Actions: Circulatory stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, analgesic, antirheumatic, nervine tonic
Diseases: Arthritis(3), neuralgia (nerve pain)(3), sciatica(3), skin problems(3), Raynaud’s disease(3), cold extremities(3)
Parts used: Bark, berries, roots
Characteristics: Prickly ash is a small tree native to Northern America and grows from Quebec in Canada, south to Georgia, and west to Oklahoma (Ju et al., 2001).
History: Prickly ash has a long history of medicinal use and shares the name, ‘toothache tree’ with a southern growing prickly ash called, Zanthoxylum clavaherculis (Ju et al., 2001; Bafi-Yeboa et al., 2005). Both types were used to treat toothache, however northern prickly ash is used as a remedy for many different medicinal problems, so this discussion is limited to northern prickly ash. Prickly ash was used extensively by the Native Americans for medicinal purposes (Goodchild, 1999). For example, the Algonquin used a decoction of the roots for relief from rheumatic complaints, while the Alabama used a decoction of the inner bark for various skin problems. Bark from prickly ash was chewed by the Native Americans to alleviate toothaches. The Eclectic physicians in the 19th century used prickly ash as a digestive aid, to strengthen the nervous system, and for cholera (Covey, 2008).
Current uses: Matthew Wood recommends pricky ash bark tincture for cases of nerve pain, in his book, ‘The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism’, he writes, ‘(prickly ash) is an excellent remedy for nerve damage resulting in numbness, tingling, and pain’ (Wood, 2004). He also recommends it is applied in small doses, ‘(pricky ash) is plenty strong in small doses: a few drops, several times a day.
Prickly ash is a circulatory stimulant, like ginkgo, and is indicated for peripheral neuropathies, Raynaud’s disease, and cold extremities. It can be applied alongside St. John’s wort to treat nerve pain.
Science: Some studies in the 1970s on extracts from the bark and berries identified the coumarins and alkaloids (Ju et al., 2001). Coumarins are a major class of O-heterocyclic compounds with a broad pharmacological profile and have anti-tumour and anti-viral properties. A study found that prickly ash extract displayed anti-fungal properties (Bafi-Yeboa et al., 2005). There have not been any scientific studies of prickly ash on humans to date.
Safety: Prickly Ash is generally regarded as very safe to use by all ages and whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.
Dosage: 2-4mls of prickly ash bark tincture can be aimed for per day in a standard dosing regime. Alternatively, just 3 drops 1-3 times per day has been suggested specifically for nerve pain by Matthew Wood (Wood, 2011).
Brands: See good local herbalist/ supplier.
Bafi-Yeboa, N. F. A., et al. “Antifungal constituents of Northern prickly ash, Zanthoxylum americanum Mill.” Phytomedicine 12.5 (2005): 370-377.
Covey, Herbert C. African American slave medicine: Herbal and non-herbal treatments. Lexington Books, 2008.
Goodchild, Peter. Survival Skills of the North American Indians. Chicago review press, 1999.
Ju, Yong, et al. “Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum).” Phytotherapy Research 15.5 (2001): 441-443.
Wood, Matthew. The earthwise herbal: a complete guide to old world medicinal plants. North Atlantic Books, 2011.
Wood, Matthew. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification. North Atlantic Books, 2004.