Prickly Ash by Student Contributor Christian Galloway

    Prickly Ash Latin Names:  Northern Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum)  Southern Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum clava-herculis) Family:  Rutaceae Common Names:  Tickle Tongue, Pepper Wood, Toothache Tree     All my life Prickly Ash has been a part of my landscape.  My earliest memory of it, at about 4 or 5 years old, is licking a piece of the […]

    Prickly Ash

    Latin Names:  Northern Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum)  Southern Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum clava-herculis)
    Family:  Rutaceae
    Common Names:  Tickle Tongue, Pepper Wood, Toothache Tree

        All my life Prickly Ash has been a part of my landscape.  My earliest memory of it, at about 4 or 5 years old, is licking a piece of the vibrant green inside bark with some kids down the road.  They called it Tickle Tongue, and it did, indeed, have a tingly sensation on my tongue.  
        I grew up calling it Pepper Wood, not realizing until my recent classes at the Wildflower School that it was the same tree I had tasted in my youth.  I have always found it a fascinating tree to observe, with its copiously thorny trunk and branches.  Though, I must say, this tree does not feel very fascinating when dealing with livestock around it.  It has always grown prolifically on our farm in Northeast Texas.  Though we have cut many of them down over the years, they tenaciously grow back.  
        I believe the species we have here in Northeast Texas is the Xanthoxylum clava-herculis, also known as Southern Prickly Ash.  It is a hardy tree that has medium gray bark with periodic splotches of white along the trunk.  As I mentioned above, it also has thorns.  Our local variety has lines of thorns that travel the full length of the trunk.  The size of these thorns tends to vary based on their location on the trunk.  As the trunk gets larger, the thorns get larger.  The base of the thorns on the trunks of older trees is wart-like with a sharp thorny protrusion.  Whereas, the bulbous, wart-like base is not evident on the trunks of younger trees.
        The thorns on the branches do not, necessarily grow in such a linear fashion.  However, I have observed that, much like the trunk, the larger branches tend to have warty based thorns.  While the smaller and younger branches do not.  
        The leaves are a medium green with a hint of yellow and a slight tooth.  The berries begin life the same color as the leaves, but turn a sort of purple-black over time.
        Prickly Ash is a member of the Citrus family.  The leaves, berries, and bark can all be used.  I have read accounts of its use alone, but I also discovered that it is often used in conjunction with other herbs.  It is a strong nervine which has seen a number of uses for ailments that range in diversity from toothache to cholera over the last couple of centuries.  Ellingwood stated in 1919, “It is diffusible, producing a warm glow throughout the system and nervous tingling, as if a mild current of electricity was being administered.”  
        According to J.T. Garrett, the Cherokee used this tree for blood purification, stimulation of the circulation, sexually transmitted diseases, and they chewed it for toothaches.  Garrett also states, “A salve of bear grease and prickly ash was used as a poultice for wounds and sores in the earlier years, especially in treating boils.”

    It has been used as a treatment for rheumatism and arthritis for many years.  Michael Tierra wrote, “A good combination for treating arthritis is equal parts prickly ash bark, guiacum, sarsaparilla, black cohosh, and sassafras.  This is made into a tea using an ounce of the combination to a pint of water.”

        In my research I found that many wrote of the positive effects of Prickly Ash on the digestive tract and gas. (I will discuss my own experience with this a bit later.) We learned in class that the Chinese have used the berries in their cuisine to aid in digestion.  I learned from Henriette Kress’ website that, “King used it extensively in the cholera epidemic of 1849 with excellent results.”  I believe King also used the berries.
        Matthew Wood has used it extensively for pain.  He writes, “It will rectify conditions wher the nerves have been injured, torn, or overstimulated, are numb, tingling, or torturously painful, and it will do it with a power that is hard to believe.”
        My own use has been primarily with a tincture of Xanthoxylum clava-herculis leaves, bark, and flower in Everclear.

    When I put a drop across my wrist to test its effects, I felt a slight enervation along the line of tincture, and it, actually lefta slight yellowish-green line along my skin.


    About two hours after eating dinner, one evening, I felt some general discomfort in my abdomen as well as bloat from gas.  I took about half a dropper of the tincture orally, and within 10 minutes I felt a marked reduction of the bloating.  Within 30 minutes I felt fine.  The tincture left a lasting tingly sensation in the middle of my tongue. I also noticed a slight enervated feeling throughout my body within the first few minutes.   

        I am a smoker, and  interestingly enough, I found that with a cough about 15 minutes after ingesting the tincture, my chest congestion was much improved, as well.

    One evening my upper right wisdom tooth was hurting.  There is some mild decay on the back of it near the gum line.  I placed 2 drops of the Prickly Ash tincture on a Q-tip and rubbed it on the tooth and gum.  Initially the pain became more acute, and I experienced a dull throb across the roof of my mouth.  Witnin 5 minutes, I experienced some numbness in the area and the pain had receded almost completely.  After about 10 minutes, I also experienced a slight tingly sensation on the right side of my tongue, across the roof of my mouth, and, interestingly, in my top two front teeth, followed by another mild pain in the wisdom tooth.  After 30 minutes  the pain was gone completely.
    I have learned so much about this tree, I grew up viewing as a fascinating noucence.  I find I have a new respect for this tenacious tree and cannot help but feel saddened by all the strong medicine we wasted for so many years by just cutting them down.

    The Cherokee Herbal by J.T. Garrett
    The Earthwise Herbal(New World) by Matthew Wood
    The Ways of Herbs by Michael Tierra