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Prickly Ash

Prickly Ash

Botanical Description & Habitat

Zanthoxylum americanum


Common names

Angelica treeNorthern prickly ash
Toothache barkToothache bush
Yellow wood

Native to North America and found in moist, shady places

The tree reaches 15 feet in height and has alternate branches with strong, sharp prickles. The leaves are alternate and pinnate, with 5 to 11 ovate, hairy leaflets. The flowers are yellow-green and grow in axillary clusters, blooming during April and May. The fruit is a green-red capsule containing one or more blackish seeds.

Medicinal parts
Root bark, dried or fresh, collected in autumn
fruit (berries), ripe, dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Prickly ash is a native American herb having an excellent reputation at various times during the past 200 years. In 1849-1850, during a Midwestern outbreak of Asiatic cholera, a preparation of prickly ash bark was used as a remedy with considerable success. Prickly ash was included in some of the most famous elixirs and compounds of the last century.

Prickly ash is commonly used today to treat debilitating fevers, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and conditions like rheumatism. Although the plant contains numerous alkaloids, coumarins, lignans, and other substances, only the active principle underlying its antibacterial property has been confirmed. Its purported antidiarrheal action can probably be attributed to the presence of tannins in the bark.

Method of Action

Asarinin, a lignan component of prickly ash, has antitubercular properties.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Diuretics such as prickly ash may potentiate the action of antihypertensive, ganglionic or peripheral adrenergic blocking drugs, tubocurarine and, to a lesser degree, norepinephrine.

Prickly Ash has coumarin constituents which have anticoagulant properties.

Possible Interactions
The tannin in prickly ash may potentiate the antibiotic activity of echinacea. The tannin in tea made from the herb may be inactivated by the addition of milk or cream.

The CNS depressant tendency of this analgesic may be potentiated by chlorprothixene HCl, haloperidol, and tranquilizers.

Prickly ash's analgesic effects may be additive with other analgesics and anesthetics. Conversely, the herb may be inhibited by barbiturates, despite any CNS-depressant effects which may occur.

The analgesic property of this herb may also be reversed or even eliminated by P-chlorophenylalanine, cyproheptadine HCl, and phenobarbital.

Although the coumarin content of prickly ash is low at normal usage levels, it is important to note coumarins can affect the action of almost any drug.

In the absence of other hard data, it may be assumed observable interactions occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in prickly ash.

There is evidence to show combined use of bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. However, how this finding applies to herbal anti-infectives is still unknown.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The Indians and white settlers of the Old West used prickly ash to treat toothache, but some reports indicate the extreme irritant nature of the bark against the oral mucosa simply took attention away from the toothache. Whatever the case may truly be, prickly ash bark possesses considerable potential for irritation of mucous membranes. Its toxicity other than irritation is unknown.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried bark
2-4 grams

made from 1 tsp of dried bark

Fluid extract
1:1 in 45% alcohol, 1-3 ml

1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2-5 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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