PRICKLY ASH BARK (Zanthoxylum species)

Latin: Xanthoxylum species, Zanthoxylum species
African: Fagara/Yeah/Igi-ata

WHAT IT DOES: Prickly ash bark is pungent in taste and hot in action.  It stimulates the circulation and breaks up blood congestion.

RATING: yellow, due to limitations in use.

SAFETY ISSUES: Do not use during pregnancy or if taking blood thinning medications.  Use with caution if you have stomach or intestinal inflammation.

• Powder: 250-750 mg two to three times per day
•  Decoction: one teaspoon of bark in one cup of water two to three times per day
• 1:5 Tincture: 10-20 drops two to three times per day
Note: tincture is preferred form due to ease of use.

Prickly ash bark stimulates the circulation, lymphatic system and mucous membranes.  It is effective in treating chilblains (constriction of small arteries), leg cramps, varicose veins, ulcers and other problems resulting from blood congestion and cold.  Various related species can be found around the world, but they contain different amounts and types of phytochemicals.  In Nigeria, people use the root of fagara as a chewing stick to aid in oral hygiene.  And in Nigeria and Ghana, a decoction of the root bark is a common treatment for toothache pain, childbirth pain and trauma, and as also used as a general tonic (Iwu, 1993).

Doctors in Nigeria use fagara (F.  zanthosyloides) to reduce the painful crisis of the genetic disease, sickle cell anemia (Iwu, 1993).  This herb has a variety of unusual properties that reduce platelet and blood cell sticking.  After reading the reports from Nigeria many years ago, I decided to try fagara’s relative prickly ash bark for the same indication.  I made a simple tincture of 50% prickly ash bark and 50% ginkgo leaf, and gave it to a young African-American girl in the first grade who constantly missed school and needed to be hospitalized 3-4 times per year due to the painful sickle cell crisis.  I gave her about 25 drops three times a day.  She immediately stopped having serious problems, her thinking was no longer fuzzy, the frequency of her attacks went down to about one per year, and the severity of the attacks decreased appreciably.  This success has continued through the years, as long as she takes her medicine.  I saw her last year, and she has blossomed into a beautiful junior high school student, the sickle cell disease now only a bit-player in the background of her life.

Another of my patients had lived with the disease his entire life, with almost constant pain, and bimonthly crisis.  I gave him 35 drops three times per day, and he immediately improved in the same way as the young girl.  This improvement in both frequency of attacks and level of pain has persisted in three of my long-term patients over many years.  The wholesale cost of this medicine is less than $20 per month at full dosage.  My biggest fear is that this knowledge will be co-opted by a pharmaceutical company, and made available to the many suffering children only at an exorbitant cost.

Research Highlights

• We do not know the full extent or the cause of the anti-sickling activity of Zanthoxylum species plants.  Researchers have identified several types of coumarins been (Chen et al., 1995), as well as various alkaloids that reduce platelet sticking (Sheen et al., 1996; Ko et al., 1990).

• Among the agents know to possess anti-sickling inhibitory activity at low concentrations are the aqueous extract of the roots of Zanthoxylum xanthoxyloides (anti-sickling ether fraction), vanillic acid, parahydroxybenzoic acid and paraflurobenzoic acid (Osoba et al., 1989).

• In vitro testing of 43 African plants traditionally used to treat malaria have shown strong anti-malarial action in four of the plants, including the Zanthoxylum chalybeum species of prickly ash.  The other plants that demonstrated this action against malaria were Cissampelos mucronata, Maytenus senegalensis, and Salacia madagascariensis (Gessler et al., 1994).

historical and usage info on prickly ash