Ash, Prickly

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Ash, Prickly

Botanical Name: Xanthoxylum Americanum (MILL.)
Family: N.O. Rutacea

Synonyms: Toothache Tree. Yellow Wood. Suterberry.
Parts Used: Root-bark, berries.

Description: The Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum Americanum, Mill., X. fraxineum Willd.; X. Carolinianum, Lamb.) is a small North American tree growing in the open air in this country. It has pinnate leaves and alternate branches, which are covered with sharp and strong prickles: the common footstalk is also sometimes prickly, and also the bark.

It belongs to the Yellow Wood family (Rutaceae), which all possess aromatic and pungent properties.

The berries, growing in clusters on the top of the branches, are black or deep blue and enclosed in a grey shell.

The leaves and berries have an aromatic odour similar to that of oil of Lemons, and the berries and bark have a hot, acrid taste.

The root-bark and berries are used medicinally, being official in the United States Pharmacopoeia.

Constituents: The barks of numerous species of Xanthoxylum and the allied genus Fagara have been used medicinally. There are two principal varieties of Prickly Ash in commerce: X. Americanum (Northern Prickly Ash) and Fagara Clava-Herculis (Southern Prickly Ashj, which is supposed to be more active. Although not absolutely identical, the two Prickly Ash barks are very similar in their active constituents. Both contain small amounts of volatile oil, fat, sugar, gum, acrid resin, a bitter alkaloid, believed to be Berberine and a colourless, tasteless, inert, crystalline body, Xanthoxylin, slightly different in the two barks. Both yield a large amount of Ash: 12 per cent. or more. The name Xanthoxylin is also applied to a resinous extractive prepared by pouring a tincture of the drug into water.

The fruits of both the species are used similarly to the barks. Their constituents have not been investigated, but they apparently agree in a general way with those of the bark.

The drug is practically never adulterated. The Northern bark occurs in commerce in curved or quilled fragments about 1/24 inch thick, externally brownish grey, with whitish patches, faintly furrowed, with some linearbased, two-edged spines about 1/4 inch long. The fracture is short, green in the outer, and yellow in the inner part. The Southern bark, which is more frequently sold, is 1/12 inch thick and has conical, corky spines, sometimes 4/5, inch in height.

Xanthoxcylin is included in the United States Pharmacopceia for the preparation of a fluid extract, the dose of which is 1/2 to 1 drachm.

Medicinal Action and Uses: It acts as a stimulant - resembling guaiacum resin and mezereon bark in its remedial action and is greatly recommended in the United States for chronic rheumatism, typhoid and skin diseases and impurity of the blood, administered either in the form of fluid extract or in doses of 10 grains to 1/2 drachm in the powdered form, three times daily.

The following formula has also become popular in herbal medicine: Take 1/2 oz. each of Prickly Ash Bark, Guaiacum Raspings and Buckbean Herb, with 6 Cayenne Pods. Boil in 1 1/2 pint of water down to 1 pint . Dose: a wineglassful three or four times daily.

On account of the energetic stimulant properties of the bark, it produces when swallowed a sense of heat in the stomach, with more or less general arterial excitement and tendency to perspiration and is a useful tonic in debilitated conditions of the stomach and digestive organs, and is used in colic, cramp and colera, in fever, ague, lethargy, for cold hands and feet and complaints arising from a bad circulation.

A decoction made by boiling an ounce in 3 pints of water down to a quarter may be given in the quantity of a pint, in divided doses, during the twenty-four hours. As a counter-irritant, the decoction may be applied on compresses. It has also been used as an emmenagogue.

The powdered bark forms an excellent application to indolent ulcers and old wounds for cleansing, stimulating, drying up and healing the wounds. The pulverized bark is also used for paralytic affections and nervous headaches and as a topical irritant the bark, either in powdered form, or chewed, has been a very popular remedy for toothache in America, hence the origin of a common name of the tree in the States: Toothache Tree.

The berries are considered even more active than the bark, being carminative and antispasmodic, and are used as an aperient and for dyspepsia and indigestion; a fluid extract of the berries being given, in doses of 10 to 30 drops.

Xanthoxylin. Dose, 1 to 2 grains.

Both berries and bark are used to make a good bitter.

The name Prickly Ash has also been given to Aralia spinosa (Linn.), the Prickly Elder, or Angelica Tree, the bark, roots and berries of which are used as alteratives.