Scientific Names of Prickly Ash Bark:  Zanthoxylum clava-herculis Lour[Fam. Rutaceae]

Dried bark and berry and liquid extract of bark and berry of Prickly ash species.

Traditional Usage:
– Anesthetic

– Antibacterial

– Anti-candidiasis

– Anti-inflammatory

– Bile Deficiency

– Cellular Regeneration

– Chronic Pharyngitis

– Cleansing

– Colds and coughs

– Cramps

– Detoxification

– Digestive Disorders (carminative)

– Flatulence

– Jaundice

– Intermittent claudication

– Pain

– Paralysis of the tongue

– Raynaud’s syndrome

– Rheumatism

– Saliva Deficiency

– Toothache

– Tooth Decay Prevention

– Vascular Disorders

– Water retention

Prickly ash bark, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis L. [Fam. Rutaceae], also known as toothache bark, Xanthoxylum and Zanthoxylum, comes from a prickly shrub or tree grown in the southern United States. Northern prickly ash (Z. americanum) grows northwest of Pennsylvania, but it is the bark and fruit of southern prickly ash that has the strongest medicinal properties. The bark has a strong fragrance and a pungent, bitter taste. When chewed, it imparts a sweetish aromatic taste, followed by bitterness and acridity; the berries act similarly but are more pleasant to taste. The bark induces a copious flow of saliva and mucus and has significant diuretic activity. Swallowed, it warms the stomach and augments gastric and intestinal juice secretion, and probably increases hepatic and pancreatic activity. Aboriginal Americans traditionally used prickly ash bark tea for rheumatism, dyspepsia, dysentery, kidney trouble, heart trouble, colds and coughs, lung ailments and nervous debility. It is also used in folk medicine as a remedy for toothaches and abnormal growths. Zanthoxylum strengthens the action of the heart; pulse is slightly quickened, arterial tension slightly lowered and the glands of the skin are stimulated to greater activity. Recent studies have identified several compounds from prickly ash bark that have strong activity against abnormal growths. Four pyranocoumarins; dipetaline, xanthyletin, alloxanthoxyletin and xanthoxyletin; and two lignans; sesamin and asarinin were isolated. To varying degrees, all had activity against abnormal human blood cells. Dipetaline was the most active with an active concentration of 0.68 ppm, followed by alloxanthoxyletin (1.31 ppm), sesamin (2.71 ppm), asarinin (4.12 ppm), xanthoxyletin (3.48 ppm) and xanthylletin (3.84 ppm). The bark also possesses significant circulatory stimulant, carminative, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, antibacterial and anti-candidiasis activity. The berries are stated to be more active in circulatory disorders and were also used traditionally for treating sore throats, tonsillitis and as a diuretic.

Active Ingredients:
Southern prickly ash bark and berries contain: Alkaloids (isoquinoline-type): Chelerythrine and magnoflorine (main constituents), candicine, lauriflorine, nitidine, N-acetylanonaine, tembetarine. Amides: Cinnamamide, herculin, neoherculin. Lignans: (-)-Asarinin, (-)-sesamin, -acetylanonaine, tembetarine. Amides: Cinnamamide, herculin, neoherculin. Lignans: (-)-Asarinin, (-)-sesamin, y.y-dimethylallyl ether of (-)-pluviatilol. Other Ingredients: Resins, tannins, an acrid volatile oil (3.3%). Four pyranocoumarins; dipetaline, alloxanthoxyletin, xanthoxyletin and xanthyletin were isolated from the bark of northern prickly ash, Zanthoxylum americanum and are also likely found in the bark of southern prickly ash.

Suggested Amount:
The recommended dosage of prickly ash bark is as follows: Dried Bark: 1 to 3 grams or by decoction three times per day. Bark, Liquid extract: (1:1 in 45% alcohol) 1 to 3 ml three times per day. Bark, Tincture (1:5 in 45% alcohol) 2 to 5 ml three times per day.

Dried Berry: 0.5 to 1.5 grams. Berry, Liquid extract: (1:1 in 45% alcohol) 0.5 to 1.5 ml.

For toothache: chewing the bark or making a tea of the bark or berries is recommended. For prevention of tooth decay, it is recommended to use the antibacterial bark and/or berries likewise.

Drug Interactions:
None known.

No contraindications are documented for southern prickly ash. According to Newall and others, the compound, chelerythrine, has been reported to interact with sodium-potassium ATPase, which may interfere with cardiac glycoside therapy. However, the clinical relevance of this with respect to southern prickly ash is unknown. Excessive ingestion may interfere with anticoagulant therapy in view of the coumarin constituents. Hypotensive and sedative activities have been documented in animals. The alkaloid constituents in southern prickly ash are potentially toxic, although no adverse effects have been documented in humans. Due to a lack of data, it is best to avoid prickly ash during pregnancy and lactation. One source states that prickly ash is not recommended for people with stomach irritation.

Side Effects:
No side effects or toxicity have been documented in humans, however the alkaloid constituents are potentially toxic. Ingestion of southern prickly ash by cattle, chickens, and fish is lethal because of the neuromuscular blocking properties of the bark. Neoherculin is reported to be the major ichthyotoxic property in an extract of southern prickly ash bark. The bark may cause nausea when taken in large doses.


Bowen JM, Cole RJ, Bedell D, Schabdach D. 1996. Neuromuscular effects of toxins isolated from southern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) bark. Am J Vet Res. 1996 Aug; 57(8): 1239-44.

Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. pp. 518; 520-521. Rodale Press.

Foster S, and Duke JA. 1990. Prickly Ash in Medicinal Plants. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY. Pp. 238.

Ju Y, Still CC, Sacalis JN, Li J, Ho CT. 2001. Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum). Phytother Res. 2001 Aug; 15(5): 441-3.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, and Phillipson JD. 1996. Northern and Southern Prickly Ash In Herbal Medicines. A Guide for Health Care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press, London. Pp. 219-221.