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Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)

“The action was prompt and permanent… Prickly ash acted like electricity, so sudden and diffusive was its influence over the entire system. I consider the tincture of prickly ash to be superior to any form of medication I know of.”4

Charles Millspaugh, American Herbal Medicine.

Prickly Ash Berries are not only edible, but a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine known as Szechwan pepper. The berries can be harvested any time there are leaves present, i.e. from mid-spring to late fall, so green, red, dark blue or black, they are all good.

Prickly ash, commonly referred to as northern prickly ash, is an herbal supplement often used to treat toothachejoint painarthritis, circulation problems, and more.1 Some have even suggested that it has anti-cancer properties.2 

Prickly ash comes from the plant family of the Rutaceae genus. The perennial plant grows as either a shrub or a tree that can grow up to 26 feet in height. The plant has dark brown branches with prickles that are up to a half of an inch long—thus the name prickly ash. 

The twigs of the prickly ash shrub/tree have a strong smell, mimicking that of lemon peel. The small leaf buds are red and woolly, and greenish-yellow flowers appear in spring before their dark green leaves emerge. In late summer the fruit ripens, turning from its original green color to reddish-brown.  

Prickly ash is native to Missouri. It grows in most areas of the state (except for in the Ozarks region), as well as other areas in Eastern North America. It is commonly found in moist ravines, thickets, and woods, as well as upland rocky bluffs and hillsides and open wooded areas. 

There is also an Asian version (which has some of the same properties as prickly ash) called crow prickly ash.1

Also Known As


Historically, many Native American tribes used prickly ash as a medicinal herb. They used an infusion of the bark to treat everything from itchy skin to back pain as well as cramps, fevers, colds, lung conditions, toothaches, sore throats, pain from childbirth, and colic in babies.3

In the 19th century, Charles Millspaugh described the use of prickly ash in his book American Herbal Medicine. In it, he identified prickly ash as a remedy for pneumoniacholeratyphustyphoid, and more.4  

What Is Prickly Ash Used For?

Prickly ash is commonly used to promote blood flow throughout the body, specifically for the treatment of rheumatism. Rheumatism (including various types of arthritis) is any disease involving pain and swelling or inflammation of the joints, ligaments, and muscles.5

Prickly ash is said to help improve rheumatism and alleviate joint pain by inhibiting hormones called prostaglandins that stimulate inflammation.5

Prickly ash is said to have numerous functions and benefits:1

  • Antidiarrheal agent
  • Antifungal agent
  • Antinauseal agent
  • Antirheumatic properties
  • Appetite stimulant
  • Blood and lymphatic circulation stimulant 
  • Carminative (gas relief)
  • Digestive aid
  • Diaphoretic (induces sweat to reduce fever)
  • Dysentery remedy
  • Hemorrhoid remedy
  • Liniment (an invigorating rub used to reduce muscle pain)
  • Rubefacient (improves blood flow to the small vessels)
  • Tinnitus remedy (reduces ringing in the ears)
  • Tonic (invigorates and strengthens the body)

How It Works

Prickly ash bark contains alkaloids, which are nitrogen-containing plant compounds that cause physiological actions. Examples of alkaloids are morphine, quinine, and more. Prickly ash also contains an alkamide that causes a numbing feeling on the tongue and mouth.1 

This may be the reason prickly ash was commonly used for toothaches, although there is inconclusive clinical research evidence to show that prickly ash is safe and effective in relieving tooth pain.

The volatile oils derived from prickly ash contain the highest concentration of alkaloids.6 They help stimulate tissues resulting in dilatation of the veins and improved circulation.1

Prickly ash also has a rubefacient effect. This means that when used on the skin, the volatile oils produce redness, causing dilatation of the capillaries and increased blood flow.7 

When taken internally, stimulant volatile oils—such as the oil from prickly ash—have an effect on the digestive and circulatory systems.1

Clinical Studies

Among the available studies, 2017 research published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine has shown that prickly ash has antifungal properties that may be beneficial to treating mild fungal infection.8

An older study published in 2001 in Phytotherapy Research reported that northern prickly ash has cytotoxic properties and was able to kill human leukemia cells in a test tube.

a 2019 study documented the use of prickly ash can potentially increase the effects of the blood thinner, making it a possibly useful remedy to treat blood clotting side effects of the C19 Vaccine. 11

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Prickly Ash
Zanthoxylum americanum

The fruits have been used by young men as a perfume[257].

Wood – soft. It weighs 35lb per cubic foot[235]. Of little use[229].

  • Medicinal Use

    Prickly ash is a warming, stimulating herb that is beneficial for the circulation. It was highly regarded by the native North American Indians who used it especially to alleviate rheumatism and toothache[254]. All parts of the plant, but especially the bark and roots, contain the aromatic bitter oil xanthoxylin[229]. This has a number of applications in medicine, especially in the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions, digestive problems and leg ulcers[229, 254]. The fruit has a similar medicinal action to the bark[4].

    The bark and roots are irritant, odontalgic and antirheumatic[213]. Along with the fruit they are diaphoretic, stimulant and a useful tonic in debilitated conditions of the stomach and digestive organs[4]. They produce arterial excitement and are of use in the treatment of fevers, ague, poor circulation etc[4].

    The fruits are considered more active than the bark, they are also antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic and antirheumatic[4, 213, 222].

    The pulverized root and bark are used to ease the pain of toothache[213, 222]. One report says that it is very efficacious, but the sensation of the acrid bark is fully as unpleasant as the toothache[213]. Chewing the bark induces copious salivation[222]. Rubbing the fruit against the skin, especially on the lips or in the mouth, produces a numbing effect[K].

    A tea or tincture of the bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, dyspepsia, dysentery, heart and kidney troubles etc[222].

    A tea made from the inner bark has been used to treat itchy skin[213, 257].

  • Edible Use

    Seed – cooked. It is used as a condiment. A pepper substitute[106]. The fruit is rather small, about 4 – 5m in diameter[229], but is produced in dense clusters which makes harvesting easy[K]. Each fruit contains a single seed[229].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Extremely Safe. Unlike some herbal remedies, it appears to have low toxicity on the liver. People on anticoagulants like Coumadin (warfarin) should pay extra attention when they use of prickly ash as it can potentially increase the effects of the blood thinner.11 

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Stored seed may requires up to 3 months cold stratification, though scarification may also help[113]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Germination should take place in late spring, though it might take another 12 months. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse. Good percentage[78]. Suckers, removed in late winter and planted into their permanent positions[113].
Prefers a good deep well-drained moisture retentive soil in full sun or semi-shade[1, 11, 200]. A relatively fast-growing plant in the wild, it often forms thickets by means of root suckers[229]. All parts of the plant are fragrant. The bruised foliage has a delicious resinous orange-like perfume[245]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Flowers are formed on the old wood[206].
Eastern N. America – Quebec to Florida, west to Minnesota and Oklahoma.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.