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Zanthoxylum americanum

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Title: Zanthoxylum americanum  
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Zanthoxylum americanum

Zanthoxylum americanum
Zanthoxylum americanum at the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Rutaceae
Genus: Zanthoxylum
Species: Z. americanum
Binomial name
Zanthoxylum americanum
Natural range

Zanthoxylum americanum, the Common Prickly-ash, Common Pricklyash, Common Prickly Ash or Northern Prickly-ash (also sometimes called Toothache Tree, Yellow Wood, or Suterberry), is an aromatic shrub or small tree native to central and eastern portions of the United States and Canada. It is the northernmost New World species in the Citrus (Rutaceae) family, and is part of the same genus as sichuan pepper.[1] It can grow to 10 meters (33 ft) tall with a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 15 cm (6 in).[2] It produces membranous leaflets and axillary flower clusters.[2] The wood is not commercially valuable, but oil extracts from the bark have been used in traditional and alternative medicine, and have been studied for antifungal and cytotoxic properties.[2] The genus name is sometimes spelled Xanthoxylum.


Originally described by Scottish botanist Philip Miller in 1768,[3] Zanthoxylum americanum is a member of the wide-ranging genus Zanthoxylum in the plant family Rutaceae, which includes many species with aromatic foliage. Miller, who spelled the name Xanthoxylum, described the plant in the eighth edition of his Gardeners Dictionary, as "grow[ing] naturally in Pensylvania [sic] and Maryland".[4]


The plant has pinnately compound leaves with 5–11 membranous leaflets. It has axillary flower and fruit clusters.[2] The buds are hairy. The dark green leaves are bitter-aromatic, with crenate margins.[5][2] The berries begin red[5] and turn deep blue to black,[6] with stalked fruit pods.[2] Flowers are dioecious, with yellow-green petals.[7]

Distribution and conservation status

Zanthoxylum americanum berries

Rare in the Ontario and Quebec in Canada.[8] The species is listed as Endangered in Florida, Maryland, and New Hampshire; and as Special Concern in Tennessee.[8]

Butterflies that use Zanthoxylum americanum as a larval food source include the Thoas Swallowtail (Papilio thoas), Giant Swallowtail (P. cresphontes), and Spicebush Swallowtail (P. troilus).[5]

This plant was discovered by John Bartram in his travels and plant collecting excursions.

Medicinal use

Seedling drawing


An oil extracted from the bark and berries of the prickly-ash (both this species and Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) has been used in herbal medicine.[2][6] The extract may act as a stimulant, and historic medicinal use has included use "for chronic rheumatism, typhoid and skin diseases and impurity of the blood..." as well as for digestive ailments.[6] Grieve states, "The berries are considered even more active than the bark, being carminative and antispasmodic, and are used as an aperient and for dyspepsia and indigestion; a fluid extract of the berries being given, in doses of 10 to 30 drops."[6] The bark has been chewed for toothaches, and a tea from the berries has been used for sore throats and as a diuretic.[9] As noted by Michael Dirr, in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, "Supposedly the stems and fruits were chewed by the Indians to alleviate toothache for the acrid juice has a numbing effect."

Modern studies and uses

There have been some modern studies of the oil's chemical constituents and their antifungal[10] and cytotoxic effects.[11] [12]

In 2012, a Pennsylvania distillery introduced a bitters called Bartram's Bitters that uses prickly ash bark as one of several botanical ingredients. The concoction was based on a recipe for "Bartram's Homestead Bitters" that was found in a book that belonged to the family of botanist John Bartram.[13]


See also


  1. ^ "Zanthoxylum americanum" (range map).  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. (1988). Trees of the Southeastern United States. Athens, Georgia: The  
  3. ^ International Organization for Plant Information (IOPI). "Plant Name Search Results" (HTML).  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b c "NPIN: Zanthoxylum americanum (Common pricklyash)". Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d  
  7. ^ Brown, Claud L.; Kirkman, L. Katherine (1990). Trees of Georgia and Adjacent States. Portland, Oregon:  
  8. ^ a b Mill. (common pricklyash)"Zanthoxylum americanum"PLANTS profile for .  
  9. ^ Foster, Steven;  
  10. ^ Bafiyeboa, N. (May 2005). "Antifungal constituents of Northern prickly ash, Mill.". Phytomedicine 12 (5): 370–377.  
  11. ^ Ju, Yong; Still, Cecil C.; Sacalis, John N.; Li, Jiangang; Ho, Chi-Tang (July 30, 2001). )"Zanthoxylum americanum"Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (.  
  12. ^ Saqib, Q. N.; Hui, Y.-H.; Anderson, J. E.; McLaughlin, J. L. (January 11, 2006). "Zanthoxylum americanum"Bioactive furanocoumarins from the berries of . Phytotherapy Research (John Wiley & Sons) 4 (6): 216–219.  
  13. ^ Nichols, Rick (May 25, 2012). "The resurrection of Bartram's Bitters". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2013-06-15. 

External links

  • A Modern HerbalOnline version of "Ash, Prickly" entry in Grieve's
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