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Herbs & Botanicals

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Prickly Ash Peel (hua jiao)

What is prickly ash peel? What is it used for?

Also known as zanthoxylum and Chinese pepper, prickly ash peel comes from a type of small tree, which can reach a height of 20 feet and is characterized by thorny stems, branches and leaves. Different species of prickly ash grow in different countries, although most of them share the same medicinal properties.

In North America, it was referred to by some native Americans as the "toothache tree" for its ability to treat toothaches and mouth sores (which was achieved by chewing or pulverizing the bark). Chewing the bark activates a chemical in prickly ash bark called nerculin, which produces a localized numbing effect in the tongue and mouth. The bark/peel is gathered in the fall and dried in the sun.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, prickly ash peel has pungent and hot properties, and is slightly toxic. It is associated with the Spleen, Stomach and Kidney meridians. Its main functions are to warm the spleen and stomach, and to stop pain. Prickly ash peel is often used to treat stomach pain, eczema and skin rashes, and to fight parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms. It can be taken both internally and externally.

How much prickly ash peel should I take?

The typical dosage of prickly ash peel is between 2 and 5 grams, taken with water as an infusion, which can be drunk up to three times a day. Larger amounts can be applied directly to the skin as part of a poultice.

What forms of prickly ash peel are available?

Dried prickly ash peel can be found at many herbal shops and Asian markets. Some vendors sell prickly ash peel extracts, tablets and powders. Prickly ash peel poultices are also available for certain skin conditions.

What can happen if I take too much prickly ash peel? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Prickly ash peel should not be taken by patients diagnosed with excess heat or yin deficiency. In addition, because prickly ash peel may stimulate menstruation, the American Herbal Products Association has given it a class 2B rating, meaning that it should be used with caution by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As of this writing, there are no well-known drug interactions associated with prickly ash peel. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking prickly ash peel or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk T. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, rev ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993, pp. 304-5.
  • Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998, p. 113.
  • Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, pp. 160-1.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, p. 545.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 124.

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