Herbs & Plants

Zanthoxylum clava-herculis

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Botanical Name: Zanthoxylum clava-herculis
Family: Rutaceae
Genus: Zanthoxylum
Species: Z. clava-herculis
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Sapindales

Synonyms: Zanthoxylum carolinianum. Zanthoxylum catesbianum. Zanthoxylum clavatum.

Common Names: Hercules Club. Prickly Ash – Southern, Hercules’ club, Southern Prickly Ash, Pepperwood, or Southern prickly ash

Habitat :Zanthoxylum clava-herculis is native to South-eastern N. America – Virginia to Florida, west to Texas and Arkansas. It is usually found as scattered trees near the coast in light sandy soils, often on bluffs of islands, river banks or dunes. Best growth is from plants in most rich soils with good drainage.
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis is a deciduous small Shrub or tree, growing to 3 m (9ft 10in) at a medium rate.It is in leaf 1-Mar It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The leaves are alternate, very tardily deciduous or evergreen, pinnately compound, 7-9 narrowly elliptical to lanceolate leaflets, leaflets with round-pointed teeth, waxy-shiny above, light green below, 5-8 inches overall, rachis may bear spines. The flowers are dioecious; in terminal many-branched racemes, individual flowers tiny and yellow-green, with 5 petals, appearing in early spring.
(Individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.Fruits are follicles produced in clusters, individual fruits enclosed in a brown husk that splits open at maturity to reveal a shiny red-brown to black seed.

Twigs are Stout, green changing brown-green, bearing sharp scattered single spines, leaf scars shield-shaped, terminal buds rounded and green to brown. The bark is very unique, gray-brown and smooth, with large spine-tipped corky-pyramidal projections, losing spines with age.


Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil
Landscape Uses:Border, Massing. Prefers a good deep well-drained moisture retentive soil in full sun or semi-shade. Plants are hardy to at least -15°c. The leaves are often persistent until the following spring when the new leaves are produced. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Flowers are formed on the old wood. Special Features:North American native, Attracts butterflies, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Stored seed may requires up to 3 months cold stratification, though scarification may also help. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Germination should take place in late spring, though it might take another 12 months. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers, removed in late winter and planted into their permanent positions.

Edible Uses:
The following report is for Zanthoxylum americanum, it is probably also applicable to this species. Seed – used as a condiment. A pepper substitute. The fruit is rather small, about 4 – 5m in diameter, but is produced in dense clusters which makes harvesting easy. Each fruit contains a single seed.
Medicinal Uses:
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis is quite widely used in herbal medicine, it has the same properties as Z. americanum, but is said to be more active. All parts of the plant, but especially the bark and roots, contain the aromatic bitter oil xanthoxylin. This has a number of applications in medicine. The fruit has a similar medicinal action to the bark. The bark and roots are irritant, odontalgic and antirheumatic. Along with the fruit they are diaphoretic, stimulant and a useful tonic in debilitated conditions of the stomach and digestive organs. They produce arterial excitement and are of use in the treatment of fevers, ague, poor circulation etc. The fruits are considered more active than the bark, they are also antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic and antirheumatic. The pulverized root and bark are used to ease the pain of toothache. One report says that it is very efficacious, but the sensation of the acrid bark is fully as unpleasant as the toothache. Chewing the bark induces copious salivation. Rubbing the fruit against the skin, especially on the lips or in the mouth, produces a temporary loss of sensation. A tea or tincture of the bark has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, dyspepsia, dysentery, heart and kidney troubles etc. A tea made from the inner bark has been used to treat itchy skin.

Other Uses: Wood – light, soft, weak and close-grained. It weighs 31lb per cubic foot. Too small for commercial use

Known Hazards: Absorption of gut iron reduced. sun sensitivity, bruising and bleeding. May interfere with cardiac glycoside therapy. May interfere with blood clotting drugs.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.