The bark and sometimes the berries of these two American trees are used as medicine. There are many other trees in this genus that grow on other continents, including Chinese prickly ash (Zanthoxylum bungeanum), which grows in Asia.
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3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
Refer to label instructions
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.6 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.7. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
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The bark was also widely used by herbalists to treat rheumatic conditions.8
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Prickly ash bark contains alkaloids and a volatile oil. The fruit is rich in the volatile oil. Little research has been done specifically on the constituents or actions of American prickly ash. Preliminary Chinese trials have reportedly found that oral use of Chinese prickly ash berries can alleviate pain due to indigestion, gallbladder disease, or ulcers, as well as eliminating pinworms.9 Herculin, an alkamide in the plant, produces a localized numbing effect on the tongue when consumed.10 Whether this explains the historical use of prickly ash for toothaches remains to be confirmed in clinical trials.
Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)
Many eastern Native American tribes valued prickly ash as a remedy for upset stomach, sore throats, aching muscles, skin infections, to stimulate saliva flow, and various other conditions.1 Eclectic physicians (doctors who recommended herbal medicines) in the United States at the end of the 19th century continued the traditional uses of prickly ash, primarily as a digestive aid, to strengthen the nervous system, and for cholera.2 The bark was also widely used by herbalists to treat rheumatic conditions.3 Prickly ash is also considered an alterative in traditional herbalism, meaning it enhances the body’s ability to fight against and recover from all manner of difficulties.4 Chinese prickly ash (Zanthoxylum simulans) is used for similar indications as its American relative as well as for killing parasites.5
Prickly ash bark contains alkaloids and a volatile oil. The fruit is rich in the volatile oil. Little research has been done specifically on the constituents or actions of American prickly ash. Preliminary Chinese trials have reportedly found that oral use of Chinese prickly ash berries can alleviate pain due to indigestion, gallbladder disease, or ulcers, as well as eliminating pinworms.11 Herculin, an alkamide in the plant, produces a localized numbing effect on the tongue when consumed.12 Whether this explains the historical use of prickly ash for toothaches remains to be confirmed in clinical trials.
How to Use It
A tea of prickly ash is made by simmering 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 grams) of the bark for 10–15 minutes. Three cups (750 ml) per day are recommended.13 Alternatively, a tincture, 1/2–3/4 teaspoon (2–4 ml) three times per day, may also be used.14 Prickly ash is best taken just before meals. Traditionally, the bark was chewed to relieve tooth pain.15
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
At the time of writing, there were no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.
Interactions with Medicines
As of the last update, we found no reported interactions between this supplement and medicines. It is possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
There are no known side effects from using the recommended amounts of prickly ash. Since it stimulates digestive function, prickly ash should best be avoided in conditions such as ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcer disease, or gastroesophageal reflux. Some herbal experts suggest that prickly ash be avoided by pregnant women because it may stimulate menstruation and increase risk of a miscarriage.16
7. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425–6.
8. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 160–1.
9. Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk T. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, rev ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993, 304–5.
10. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 160–1.
11. Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk T. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, rev ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993, 304–5.
12. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 160–1.
13. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990, 225.
14. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990, 225.
15. Vogel VJ. American Indian Medicine. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, 352–4.
16. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998, 113.
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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