American Spikenard

Aralia racemosa

Herbs gallery - american spikenard.jpg

Common names

  • American Spikenard
  • American Sarsaparilla
  • Indian Root

American spikenard (botanical name, Aralia racemosa) is a perennially growing bush which generally grows up to a height of 10 feet. The leaves of this herb are large, while it produces petite greenish white flowers. The fruit or berries of American spikenard are red or purple in color. As is evident from the herb's name, it is native to North America.

American spikenard was a very well accepted herb among the various Native American tribes. They gathered the pleasingly fragrant roots of the herb for an assortment of therapeutic purposes. Several herbalists have documented that the members of the Cherokees, a native Indian tribe in south eastern United States, drank an herbal tea prepared with American spikenard to treat headaches, while those belonging to the

Shawnees tribe employed the herb to cure coughs, chest pains, asthma as well as pains resulting from stomach gas. Members of other American tribes administered American spikenard tea to their womenfolk during labor with a view to facilitate as well as have a less painful childbirth.

On the other hand, the Micmacs are known to prepare a balm with American spikenard and applied it topically to heal wounds and cuts. Members of another North American tribe, Ojibwas, employed the root of American spikenard in the form of poultice to heal fractured bones.

Early European settlers in North America included American spikenard to their individual herbal medicine shelf and discovered further uses of this herb.

They found that the juice of the purple berries of the herb as well as the oil extracted from its seeds could cure deafness and earache when poured into the ears. In the 19th century, practitioners of herbal medicine prescribed the root of American spikenard for treating rheumatism, gout, syphilis as well as ailments wherein it was considered to be essential to cleanse or sanitize the blood.

Wild sarsaparilla (botanical name, Aralia nudicaulis) is a closely related species of American spikenard. The root of this species is equally fragrant as that of American spikenard and, hence, it was also used for therapeutic purposes. The root of wild sarsaparilla was mainly used as a stimulant, tonic and to induce sweating. In addition, the root of this herb was also brewed to produce root beer.

Parts used

Root, rhizome.


In addition to its therapeutic uses, various parts of American spikenard are also consumed in different forms. The indigenous American Indians consumed the scented roots of the herb as well as the young leaves in their soups and other delicacies.

Closely related to ginseng, wild sarsaparilla as well as additional species of spikenard were employed to season tea as well as root beer. One other plant known as spikenard and associated with valerian has been found in several perfumes of the ancient period. The New Testament says that Mary Magdalene applied this perfume to the feet of Jesus.

Currently the herb is used for treating coughs and skin complaints on the basis of conventional applications. Various Native American tribes employed American spikenard as well as associated species to treat assortment medical conditions, counting in the form of an herbal tea for backaches.

A decoction prepared with the herb's roots and bark was given to women enduring menstrual disorders or prolapsed uteruses. During the colonial era, both men and women used American spikenard to treat medical conditions that were known as humours in the blood. In addition, they also used American spikenard to treat respiratory as well as pulmonary infections, for instance coughs and tuberculosis.

Poultices prepared with American spikenard were applied topically to heal wounds, burn injuries and swellings. It may be noted that this species encloses a volatile oil, diterpene acids and tannins. American spikenard was listed in the United States' National Formulary between the period 1916 and 1965.

A sweet tasting pungent tonic herb, American spikenard is frequently used in contemporary herbal medications where the herb works in the form of an alternative. The North American Indians used this herb for a wide variety of traditional purposes and there was a time when American spikenard was used as a replacement for sarsaparilla, a closely related tropical herb.

The root of American spikenard possesses diaphoretic (a medicine or substance that promotes sweating), alterative, diuretic, pectoral (a protective medication for the breast) and stimulant attributes. It has been established that use of American spikenard promotes perspiration, is invigorating and also detoxifying and, hence, it is used internally to treat asthma, pulmonary ailments, respiratory infections, rheumatism and others.

Externally, the herb is employed in the form of a poultice to treat skin complaints like eczema. The aromatic root of the herb is gathered during the later part of summer and in autumn, dried and stored for future use. A drink prepared with the macerated spikenard root is employed as a remedy for cough. On the other hand, a poultice made with the herb's root and/ or fruits is applied topically to ulcers, prickly skin and sores.

American spikenard possesses depurative (purifying), antiseptic and diaphoretic (inducing sweating) attributes and is effective in treating rheumatism, gout and added inflammatory conditions. In addition, the herb is also employed in treating medical conditions, such as lung complaints, coughs and colds.

Similar to sarsaparilla, the root tea prepared with the roots of American spikenard is a traditional folk medication used to treat backaches as well as in the form of a purifying spring tonic.

In addition, American spikenard has also been sued to cure syphilis, rheumatism and shortness of breath since long. As mentioned earlier, this herb is said to be an alternative and possesses antimicrobial properties and activities.

It may also work as an expectorant (a medication that helps in discharging phlegm) in the upper respiratory coughs attributed to asthmatic conditions. Therapeutically, the roots of American spikenard have been employed in the form of poultice to heal fractured or broken bones as well as deep bruising.

Culinary uses

American spikenard is edible and several parts of the herb are cooked before consumption, while the fruits are eaten raw or cooked. The tips of young shoots of this herb are cooked and also used as a potherb or in the form of flavouring in soups. Roots of spikenard are also cooked. They are cut in large pieces, spiced and used in soups.

The roots have a very pleasing aroma which exude a flavour similar to that of liquorice. The roots may also be used as a substitute for a closely related species sarsaparilla and brewed to prepare root beer. Fruits of American spikenard may also be used to prepare a jelly.

Habitat and cultivation

As mentioned earlier, American spikenard or Aralia racemosa is native to North America and is found growing in the wild in the vast expanse from central Canada to Virginia. It also grows in other regions of the continent.

American spikenard is very easy to grow when cultivated in average, standard moisture soil conditions or fertile soils and in complete sun or partial shade. This herb gradually spreads by means of its thick rhizomes.

The plant needs a protected position. Spring is the best season for the growth of the young and mature plants. As American spikenard is susceptible to frosts, it is advisable to cultivate the plants in a protected location where the early morning sun does not reach. Irrigation helps the plant to grow better.


It is best to propagate American spikenard by its seeds, which should be sown as soon as they mature and planted in a cold frame. If you are using stored seeds to propagate the plant, it would need anything between three to five months of cold stratification. Generally, the seeds take one to four months to germinate when the temperature is maintained at 20°C.

When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, you need to prick them individually and plant in separate pots and grown on in partial shade in the greenhouse for a minimum of their first winter. When the plants have grown about 25 cm or even taller, you can transplant them into their permanent positions outdoors in the later part of spring or in early summer. In fact, this is the best time to transplant the seedlings outdoors.

Root cuttings

Alternately, American spikenard may also be propagated by root cuttings, wherein each cutting should be about 8 cm in length. The cuttings ought to be placed in a cold frame. It is advisable that the root cuttings should be stored upturned in sand and potted during the March-April period.

Sucker division

In addition, spikenard may also be propagated by means of division of its suckers during late winter. This process of propagation is extremely simple and, if necessary, the suckers may be planted directly into their permanent positions outdoors.


American spikenard contains tannins, volatile oil, and diterpene acids.


From Terry - Jul-28-2017
I have been trying many herbal teas for my headaches including feverfew for a while but nothing really worked. Recently I have read somewhere that a tea prepared from dried roots of this herb can help to cure headaches. So, I will start drinking it and I will see if it really helps.
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