Southern Prickly Ash


Southern Prickly Ash or Hercules’ Club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis)

Over the years, I have learned to use the inner bark of the young branches of this fascinating tree to make medicine. The challenge with Prickly Ash is that this lovely herbal ally’s young branches have *thorns* (hence the name) and that makes it a little hard to work with.  But, I guess, you gotta earn your keep with this one (smile).

The young branches have spikier thorns that draw blood in a blink while the more mature trunks and branches of this tree have something that look more like stegosaurus scales.  Witnessing these outrageously unique trees in the forest is nothing short of a spectacle.  They are not that common in the Deep South or in Southern Appalachia, but when you happen upon them…it is a real treat.  In my parts, they like to hang out where hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis) are.

Southern Prickly Ash and the Prickly Ash of the north are both an excellent immuno-stimulant, kicking the adaptive immune system into high gear for when it is needed (to fight infection and pathogenic bacteria, or to increase scavenging activity in the blood to clean up waste products)… It’s also excellent in increasing peripheral circulation, and is warming in nature (and is commonly used for Reynaud’s disease).  I would personally use other herbs for the CNS with Prickly Ash for Reynaud’s, like skullcap (which would help bring down any neurological inflammation).

Prickly Ash also has a knack for certain forms of gut dysbiosis which I have been experimenting with in combination with other herbs.  Considering its warming and stimulating effects, I like to pair it with black walnut, plantain, and wood betony for water-borne illnesses and microbial issues.

Another common name for this tree is toothache tree, for its traditional use for those suffering from dental infection or tooth-pain of some kind. It’s slight numbing affect on the mouth due to its characteristic tingling taste, is a signature of this plant.  I like to combine it with propolis tincture, and poke tincture for mild tooth pain (and infection).

Twigs whose bark has been peeled (foreground) and bark being peeled (background)...

Peeling off the bark of Prickly Ash

For more info on Prickly Ash, please check out Henriette’s Herbal’s extensive post which draws from the late and great Eclectic physicians of the US.

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