Also, Known As:
- Angelica Tree
- Prickly Ash
- Toothache Tree
The prickly ash or the Zanthoxylum americanum is a tall shrub that may also be described as a small tree and usually grows up to a height of twenty feet. The shrub is distinguished by its barbed stalks and branches. The leaves of the prickly ash are covered with fine hair-like materials when they are young and as they mature they become smooth and have spots of resins on the outer surface. When the leaves of prickly ash are crushed, they give out a fragrance similar to the lemon. The shrub bears green colored flowers that appear in bunches on old wood prior to the leaves. Next, reddish brown coarse casings appear on the wood. These capsules enclose black seeds of the prickly ash and the seeds are spicy to taste. In fact, the prickly ash shrub may be found in the region ranging from Canada to Virginia and Nebraska.
The natives of North America used the prickly ash to seek relief from toothaches and hence the prickly ash shrub is also known as the toothache tree. In order to get rid of toothaches, the natives of North America chewed the barks of the prickly ash shrub. Many of them even crushed the bark of the prickly ash and pasted it on their gums for relief. Although the Native North Americans vouched the usefulness of the prickly ash in curing toothaches, Constantine Rafinesque, a European herbalist who was studying therapeutic herbs in America around 1830, claimed that the medication did not bring any relief to him. In his documentation, Constantine wrote that he experienced a burning sensation in the mouth when he used the bark of prickly ash. He further wrote that while there was a temporary relief from a toothache owing to the burning sensation, the pain returned as soon as the effect of the bark waned.
In addition to relieving toothache, the prickly ash tree had other benefits for the native North Americans. Gradually, they shared their experiences with the prickly ash with the new settlers in the continent. A poultice prepared with the prickly ash bark blended with bear grease was used to treat external pains. On the other hand, the liquid or infusion obtained by boiling the bark in water was used to treat a wide range of ailments including gonorrhea (a sexually transmitted disease), sore throat as well as rheumatism or stiffness in joints and muscles. The writer of the three-part American Medical Botany (published between 1817 and 1820) Dr. Jacob Bigelow, as far as treating rheumatism is concerned, wrote that there are many medical practitioners who rely heavily on the therapeutic potential of the prickly ash. As a result of this tendency, the medicine finds a place in many drug stores. Significantly, even today, numerous herbal medicine practitioners recommend the usage of prickly ash barks and berries as a medication for rheumatism.
Another intimately associated species of the prickly ash tree known as the Z. clava-herculis or the Hercules’ club is also known to possess similar remedial properties as the original prickly ash tree or Z. americanum. This variety of the tree is also called the Southern prickly ash tree.
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