Tips for Growing a Toothache Tree

COMMON NAMES:
Ash-leaved Toothache tree, Club Tree, Prickly Ash, Wait-a-but, Sting-tongue, Angelica-tree, Suterberry, Hercules-club, Spitberry.

LATIN NAME:
Xanthoxylon fraxineum, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, Zanthoxylum americanum

HISTORY:
The toothache tree was used medicinally by the Native American tribes on the eastern coast of the United States. It was prized for its ability to remedy digestive upset, toothaches, skin infections, sore muscles and sore throats. In fact, Native Americans used to chew on the bark of the shrub, creating a paste that was then rubbed on the gums as a remedy for toothaches, giving it its common name. Later 19th century herbal doctors continued using it for a variety of health conditions, including the use of its bark and berries as a nervous system tonic, digestive aid and treatment for rheumatism.

HERBAL PROPERTIES AND USES:
An excellent digestive aid, this plant is an alterative, aiding the body in recovering from illness, and acting as an overall immune-system booster. The toothache tree’s bark and berries have also been used as a treatment for arthritic and rheumatic problems. It is though that the bark of the tree stimulates blood circulation into stiffened joints, offering nourishment and oxygen to the affected areas. Because of its alterative properties, the herb also aids in the detoxification of waste materials from the body. It has also been used to stimulate circulation of the blood in intermittent claudication and Raynaud’s disease. It is a common topical poultice for tooth decay, tooth pain, dry mouth, throbbing/aching muscles and skin infections. It is also used as a treatment for digestive upset, including gas, diarrhea and intestinal parasites.

Toothache Tree Cultivation and Growing Methods

ANNUAL/PERRENIAL PLANT:
A perennial deciduous tree/shrub

PARTS USED:
Bark and berries

SOIL REQUIREMENTS:
An excellent barrier plant, it can grow well in most soils, even poorer quality ones. Prefers mostly sand and some clay, 5.5.-7.5 pH range.

SUN REQUIREMENTS:
Thrives best in partial to full sun.

HEIGHT:
12-45 feet

SPACING:
The tree can grow up to 1 foot in diameter. Separate 24 to 30 inches.

GROWING ZONES:
Grows well in woods, thickets and along rivers on the Eastern U.S. Coast from Florida to Canada. Also grows well in Texas, Arkansas and Nebraska. Does best in zones 3-7

PLANTING TIME:
Plant seedlings indoors in late winter or early spring. Once plants reach out 10cm tall, they can be moved outside.

POLLINATION:
Can be pollinated by root cuttings and seed scarification. It is a dioecious plant which requires both male and a female trees to produce fruit.

FLOWERING/SEEDING TIME:
Approximately four months for seed stratification.

HARVESTING:
Flower buds may be harvested on an ongoing basis. Fresh leaves may be eaten in salads. Berries are gathered in lake summer, and the bark can be stripped when shrub is fully grown in the spring.

DRYING METHODS / YIELD:
Flower heads can be dried in the oven on the lowest setting (appx. 175 degrees) for several hours until dried.

PRESERVATION / PACKAGING METHODS:
Bark can be dried and stored as any herb or spice in an air-tight container. Flower buds may also be stored in an airtight glass container for up to one year. Leaves must be eaten fresh.

ESSENTIAL OIL USE:
An excellent essential oil that has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and tissue-building properties. In essential oil form, this plant is particularly used for the health of teeth and gums in alternative “eco-dentistry.”

PLANT CHEMICALS:
The main constituents responsible for the actions of toothache tree are the alkaloi chelerythrine, herclavin, the lignans asarinin, neoherculin, as well as tannins, resins and several volatile oils.

IS THIS AN EDIBLE PLANT:
Yes

CAUTIONS / CONTRAINDICATIONS:
Talk with your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Also, toothache tree induces digestive function, so individuals suffering from ulcers or ulcerative colitis should avoid taking the herb.

DRUG INTERACTIONS:
None to date, but care should be taken with medicines involving digestive function.

Clinical Research About Toothache Tree

  • Antifungal constituents of Northern prickly ash, Zanthoxylum americanum Mill. Magazine article from: Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy & Phytopharmacology; 5/1/2005; Bafi-Yeboa, N.F.A. Arnason, J.T. Baker, J. Smith, M.L. [PMID: 15957372]
  • Phytother Res. 2001 Aug;15(5):441-3. Cytotoxic coumarins and lignans from extracts of the northern prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum). Ju Y, Still CC, Sacalis JN, Li J, Ho CT. Department of Plant Science, Cook College, Rutgers University [PMID: 11507740]

 

References

  1. Arboretum et fruticetum britannicum: or, The trees and shrubs of Britain ... By John Claudius Loudon.
  2. Peace Health Organization. http://www.peacehealth.org/KBASE/cam/hn-2149006.htm
  3. http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_prickly_ash.htm
  4. A report on the trees and shrubs growing naturally in the forests. George Barrell Emerson, Massachusetts. Zoological and Botanical Survey. p. 509. - http://books.google.com/books?id=6C1FAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA509
  5. American medicinal barks By Alice Henkel. p. 30-31. - http://books.google.com/books?id=vbIRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA31
  6. http://oldfashionedliving.com/spilanthes.html

 

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