Prickly Ash may not be the most popular or well-known herbal remedy but it is one with a long history of use. It was widely used by the Native Americans for a range of internal and external purposes. Today, many parts of the plant are still used for a range of purposes from treating arthritis to relieving toothache. If you are unfamiliar with the uses of prickly ash and are interested to learn more, please read on.
What is Prickly Ash?
Prickly Ash is a relatively small tree or shrub in the Rutaceae family. The plant which is known scientifically as Zanthoxylum americanum is a native of North America and grows freely in central and eastern parts of the US as well as Canada. Other common names for the plant are Northern Prickly-ash, Suterberry and Pepper Wood. It is also known as Toothache tree because the Native Americans often chewed on the bark or fruit to help relieve the pain from toothache.
History of Use
The use of prickly ash as a therapeutic plant dates back centuries especially for relieving aches and pains like those associated with cold weather, poor circulation and arthritis.
Long before the days of modern medicine, the Native Americans knew a great deal about the potential healing value of North American plants. They used the plant internally to treat painful and aching joints and chewed on the bark to ease the pain caused by toothache and oral infections.
The Chippewa tribe made a very powerful tea from the plant which they actually used to bathe their legs and feet. It was an especially popular remedy for elderly people suffering from painful joints and is believed to have helped relieve their pain and help them move more freely.
The tea made from the plant was also used by the Native American internally. The Algonquin made a very potent brew by combining several cups of the herb with two liters of water. The simmered this tea over a fire slowly for a few hours to extract all the healing goodness from the plant before drinking it down. After drinking their prickly ash tea, the Algonquin would bathe in a stream in order to provide long-lasting relief from joint stiffness, and muscle pain.
It has also been used traditionally as a topical remedy for skin conditions like eczema and ulcers and internally to deal with coughs and night cramps.
The Health Benefits of Prickly Ash
The bark and the berries from the prickly ash tree are both used to make an herbal medicine. It is still used to treat joint stiffness and rheumatism but can be used for a variety of other internal and external conditions. These are some of the most common used of the herb.
1) To Improve Circulation
Prickly ash has traditionally been used to improve circulation around the body which brings a range of health benefits. By improving the flow of blood and oxygen around the body, the herb can have a positive impact on the heart and the muscles.
It also helps ensure nutrients get circulated efficiently throughout the system and helps cleanse toxins from the body. These warming effects and the improved flow of blood and oxygen can also have a positive impact on conditions like varicose veins and help wound healing.
2) For Rheumatism and Arthritis
Another benefit of the improved circulation conferred by prickly ash is the effect it has on the joints. The Native Indians traditionally used the bark of the plant topically and internally in the form of a tea to help treat painful joints caused by rheumatism, cold weather or simply the aging process.
Today, prickly ash is still a popular remedy for painful joints caused by arthritis and rheumatism. While there are potential side effects from using the plant internally, the plant offers an excellent, natural alternative to more powerful commercial anti-inflammatory medications.
3) For Abdominal Pain
Prickly ash can be used to relieve chronic pain in the muscles and in the abdomen. According to traditional use, the herb is more effective at relieving pain when it is used in the form of a poultice and applied to the affected area. It can also be taken internally in tincture and tea form but when it comes to pain relief, a topical poultice is believed to be the best option.
4) Digestive Health
Prickly ash can be taken internally to stimulate the digestive process and could help treat various issues related to digestion such as bloating, pain and indigestion. Bitter herbs like prickly ash help stimulate your digestive function because they increase the production of saliva and promote the production of both digestive enzymes and stomach acids.
There are many other bitter herbs that work in the same way including devil’s claw, blessed thistle, dandelion and bitter melon. These bitter herbs are most effective when taken as a tincture or in the form of a tea that you sip 30 minutes or so before your meal.
One of the main historical uses for prickly ash was to treat toothaches. Long before the dental profession existed, the Native Americans used the herb to help treat the severe pain caused by a toothache. This gave rise to one of the plants names – the toothache tree.
The bark of prickly ash contains a volatile oil and various alkaloids which help to numb oral pain. One of these compounds called herculin produces a localized numbing feeling on your tongue after it is consumed. This is believed to explain its long historical use for treating toothache.
How to Use Prickly Ash
Prickly ash bark is used to make supplements in various forms. It is most commonly used in liquid extract and tincture form but you can also use the bark to make tea. As well as using prickly ash tea internally, it can be applied to the skin in the form of a poultice which is especially helpful in relieving muscle aches and pain.
For toothache, dip a cotton ball into a tincture of prickly ash. When the ball is soaked through, simply hold it in place against your sore tooth. According to people who have used this remedy, the pain is relieved in just a few minutes.
There is no absolute recommended dosage of prickly as so make sure that you read the dosage instructions on the package carefully.
Side Effects and Precautions
While prickly ash has been used as a remedy for many centuries, there are certain side effects that you need to be aware of. These include the following:
- Gastrointestinal Complaints : When taken internally in large doses, prickly ash may cause nausea and vomiting.
- Photosensitivity : There is some evidence that prickly ash might cause photosensitivity which means your skin is more sensitive to direct sunlight.
- Allergic Reaction : Some people suffer an allergic reaction from taking prickly ash. If you are allergic to the herb, stop taking it immediately.
- Low Blood Pressure : Using prickly ash may cause hypotension or low blood pressure.
- Bleeding : There is also some concern that prickly ash can affect the blood’s ability to clot. If you take prickly ash along with blood thinning medication like warfarin or aspirin, the risk of bleeding and bruising is increased.