Prickly Ash is a small deciduous aromatic tree, sometimes bush, native to Central and Eastern North America in the Rutaceae family. It is in the same genus as Szechuan pepper. It has fragrant yellow green axillary flowers clusters in the spring, which are dioecious, and the pinnately compound opposite leaflets develop in the summer and have crenate margins. Triangular shaped thorns occur along the stem. In the fall, the small, red, lemon scented berries ripen and darken to a deep blueish black as the season progresses. The bark, seeds, and berries are used in medical preparations. The berries are best collected in late summer, while the bark is best stripped from stems in the spring. It’s typically found in the Great Lakes region, and also, but not as commonly, as far South as Louisiana and Georgia. It grows in the wild along rivers and in woods and thickets in most soils, even poorer quality ones. It prefers mostly sand and some clay soils that are slightly acidic to neutral in full sun to partial shade.
Prickly Ash is a stimulant, especially for the circulatory system, a convalescence tonic, carminative, and diaphoretic. It’s helpful for chronic conditions such as rheumatism and skin diseases, and can help with poor circulation, nervous headaches, and other circulation related disorders, such as chillblains, leg cramps, and varicose veins and ulcers. It also stimulates the lymphatic system and mucous membranes. Externally it makes a good liniment for rheumatism and fibrositis. In Aryuvedic Medicine, Prickly Ash is considered heating and pungent, an excellent circulatory remedy, blood detoxifier, and digestive. It’s also an alterative, antiseptic, analgesic (pain relief), and anthelmintic (parasite expelling). Prickly Ash is used to expel worms and treat candida, as well as relieving cramps, colic, and abdominal pain. When combined with dry ginger, it makes a excellent digestive. For yeast infections, it combines well with goldenseal. Externally, for sores and chronic skin conditions it combines best with myrrh. Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses Prickly Ash as a circulatory and digestive herb.
Prickly Ash is known in some parts of the South Eastern United States as the Toothache Tree, as Native Americans chewed the analgesic bark as a remedy for toothaches, and brewed the berries to soothe sore throats. It was also used for sore muscles and upset digestion. The fresh leaves can be eaten in salads.
As a tincture, 2-4ml three times daily, or an 10-15 minute infusion of 1-2 teaspoons of bark per cup of water, three times daily. Should be avoided by pregnant women or those with inflamed intestinal tracts. For a massage oil to sooth arthritic joints, infused Prickly Ash into sesame oil, either by itself or combined with eucalyptus or juniper berries.
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