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Zanthoxylum americanum Mill., Xan. americanum. Hylax fraxineum. X. clava herculis.
Greek: xanthos, yellow; xylon, wood
English: Toothache Tre, Angelica tree. Prickly ash. Pellitory. Suterberry. Yellow wood
tincture of bark
Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae - Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Rosiflorae / Rosidae; Rutales; Rutaceae - Citrus Family
History and authority: First proved and introduced by Cullis, Pub. Mass. H.M. Soc. II, 267; Allen: Encyclop. Mat. Med., Vol. X, 169; Clarke: A Dictionary of Practical Mat. Med. Vol. III, 1572.
Description of the substance
Botanical Source.—Xanthoxylum americanum is an indigenous shrub, 10 or 12 feet in height, with alternate branches, which are armed with strong, conical, brown prickles, with a broad base, scattered irregularly, though most frequently in pairs at the insertion of the young branches. The leaves are alternate and pinnate; the leaflets about 5 pairs, with an odd one, nearly sessile, ovate, acute, with slight vesicular serratures, and somewhat downy underneath; the common petiole round, usually prickly on the back, though sometimes unarmed. The flowers are borne in small, dense, sessile umbels, near the origin of the young branches; they are small, greenish, dioecious or polygamous, appear before the leaves, and have a somewhat aromatic odor. In the sterile flower the calyx is 5-leaved, with oblong, obtuse, erect segments, 5 stamens with subulate filaments, and sagittate, 4-celled anthers; the ovary is abortive. In the hermaphrodite or perfect flower, the calyx and stamens are like the last, ovaries 3 to 4, pediceled, with erect, converging styles nearly as long as the stamens. Fertile or female flowers grow upon a separate tree, are apetalous, with a smaller and more compressed calyx, and 5 pediceled ovaries, with styles converging into close contact at top, and a little twisted; stigmas obtuse. Each fertile flower is succeeded by as many capsules as it had ovaries. Capsules stipitate, oval, covered with excavated dots, varying from green to red; 2-valved and 1-seeded; seeds oval and blackish (L-W.—G.).
Xanthoxylum Clava-Herculis ranges from a shrub to a small-sized tree, yet sometimes attaining a height of 45 feet. The bark is beset with verrucose prickles. The petioles and branches are armed with larger prickles. The leaves are odd-pinnate; the leaflets from 5 to 17 in number, ovate-lanceolate, unequilateral, the terminal one only being equilateral, shining and smooth on the upper surface, and having crenate-serrulate margins. The flowers are plentiful, of a greenish hue, appear before the leaves, and have but 3 pistils.
History.—Northern prickly ash, a well-known shrub of the rue family, furnishes a drug that ranked among the most important during the early investigations of our indigenous remedies by the "Eclectic Fathers." It was an especial favorite with Prof. John King. The shrub is common in thickets, rocky woods, and along river banks from Virginia northward to Canada, and westward to the Mississippi, though scarce east of the Hudson valley. It grows to the height of 5 to 10 feet. The flowers, which appear in April and May before the leaves have expanded, are axillary, small, and of a greenish color. On account of its pinnate leaves and spiny, prickly stems, it is best known to the common people as Prickly ash. To distinguish it from a southern species (Xanthoxylum Clava-Herculis), which is known as Southern prickly ash, it is sometimes called Northern prickly ash. Its reputed efficacy in toothache has given it the name of Toothache tree. In common with some other plants, it is also known as Yellow wood, a name giving the literal meaning of Xanthoxylum (Greek: xanthos, yellow; xylon, wood). All parts of the shrub are aromatic and pungent, and the leaves and berries have a decided odor of lemons. Water and alcohol extract its virtues. The therapeutic principle of the berries resides in the capsule surrounding the seeds. This principle has been found to be a volatile oil. The whole plant possesses medicinal virtues; the fragrance of the fruit and leaves is due to a volatile oil. Both the bark and fruit (berries) are employed medicinally.
Description.—BARK. The two official barks are thus described: "Xanthoxylum americanum (Northern prickly ash) is in curved or quilled fragments, about 1 Mm. (1/25 inch) thick; outer surface brownish-gray, with whitish patches, and minute, black dots, faintly furrowed, with some brown, glossy, straight, 2-edged spines, linear at the base, and about 5 Mm. (1/5 inch) long; inner surface whitish, smooth; fracture short, non-fibrous, green in the outer and yellowish in the inner layer; inodorous; taste bitterish, very pungent. Xanthoxylum Clava-Herculis (Southern prickly ash) resembles the preceding, but is about 2 Mm. (1/12 inch) thick, and is marked by many conical, corky projections, sometimes 2 Cm. (4/5 inch) high, and by stout, brown spines, rising from a corky base. Xanthoxylum should not be confounded with the bark of Aralia spinosa, Linné (Nat. Ord.—Araliaceae), which is nearly smooth externally, and beset with slender prickles in transverse rows"—(U. S. P.).
BERRIES.—The fruit, or berries, as met with in commerce, consist of open, bivalved, oval capsules, about 3 lines in length and 2 in diameter, brownish, and covered with excavated dots externally, whitish-yellow, and smooth internally, and usually with a portion of the stalk appended; they inclose an oval, shining, black, wrinkled seed, which, in the dried state, is hollow, and grayish-yellow or light brownish-yellow internally, inodorous, very brittle, and having the peculiar taste of the capsule in a very faint degree. This seed is more often absent than present in the capsule, from whose opening it escapes, and may be generally found separated from it, but mixed up with the mass. The medicinal virtues of the fruit reside in the capsules, which have a faintly aromatic, peculiar odor, and a warm, pungent, peculiar, aromatic, and pleasant taste, both of which properties are more energetic in the recent than in the dried fruit. They depend upon a volatile oil for their properties, which they yield to alcohol or ether.