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Aralia racemosa - L.                
Common Name American Spikenard
Family Araliaceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Rich woodlands and thickets[21, 43].
Range Eastern N. America - Quebec to Georgia, west to Kansas and Minnesota.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Aralia racemosa is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft) by 1.2 m (4ft in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 4 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil.

Aralia racemosa American Spikenard

Aralia racemosa American Spikenard
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Leaves;  Root.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Young shoot tips - cooked[161]. Used as a potherb[207] or as a flavouring in soups[257]. Root - cooked. Large and spicy, it is used in soups[43, 105, 161, 177]. Pleasantly aromatic, imparting a liquorice-like flavour[183]. A substitute for sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)[200], it is also used in making 'root beer'[183]. Fruit - raw or cooked[207]. Pleasant and wholesome to eat[207]. They can be made into a jelly[183, 207]. The fruit is about 4mm in diameter[200].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Alterative;  Antirheumatic;  Diaphoretic;  Expectorant;  Poultice;  Skin;  Stimulant.

American spikenard is a sweet pungent tonic herb that is often used in modern herbalism where it acts as an alterative[238]. It had a wide range of traditional uses amongst the North American Indians and was at one time widely used as a substitute for the tropical medicinal herb sarsaparilla[222, 257]. The root is alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and stimulant[4, 21, 46, 222]. The herb encourages sweating, is stimulating and detoxifying and so is used internally in the treatment of pulmonary diseases, asthma, rheumatism etc[4, 213, 238, 254]. Externally it is used as a poultice in treating rheumatism and skin problems such as eczema[4, 213, 238, 254]. The root is collected in late summer and the autumn and dried for later use[4, 213]. A drink made from the pulverised roots is used as a cough treatment[213]. A poultice made from the roots and/or the fruit is applied to sores, burns, itchy skin, ulcers, swellings etc[213, 222].
Other Uses
None known
Cultivation details                                         
An easily grown plant, succeeding in sun or part shade in any fertile soil[233]. Prefers a good deep loam and a semi-shady position[1, 111, 134]. Requires a sheltered position[1]. Plants are hardier when grown in poorer soils[200]. The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun[K]. Grows well by water[111].
Seed - best sown as soon as ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 3 - 5 months of cold stratification. Germination usually takes place within 1 - 4 months at 20°c[134]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse for at least their first winter. Once the plants are 25cm or more tall, they can be planted out into their permanent positions, late spring or early summer being the best time to do this. Root cuttings 8cm long, December in a cold frame[11, 78]. Store the roots upside down in sand and pot up in March/April. High percentage[78]. Division of suckers in late winter[11]. Very easy, the suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions if required.
Related Plants                                         
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Aralia chinensisChinese Angelica Tree, Pumila Spirea, Chinese Astilbe22
Aralia continentalisManchurian Spikenard20
Aralia cordataUdo42
Aralia elataJapanese Angelica Tree, Angelica Tree22
Aralia hispidaBristly Sarsaparilla11
Aralia mandschuricaManchurian Angelica Tree22
Aralia nudicaulisWild Sarsaparilla43
Aralia schmidtiiSakhalin Spikenard20
Aralia spinosaHercule's Club, Aralia spinosa, American Angelica Tree, Hercules' Club, Devil's Walking Stick22
Eleutherococcus chiisanensis 20
Eleutherococcus divaricatus 20
Eleutherococcus gracylistylusWu Jia Pi13
Eleutherococcus innovansTaka-No-Tsume10
Eleutherococcus japonicus 10
Eleutherococcus senticosusSiberian Ginseng25
Eleutherococcus seoulensis 10
Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus 23
Eleutherococcus sieboldianusUkogi, Five Leafed Aralia30
Eleutherococcus spinosus 22
Eleutherococcus trifoliatus 11
Hedera helixIvy, English ivy, Algerian ivy, Baltic Ivy, Common Ivy03
Hedera nepalensisNepal Ivy02
Kalopanax sciadophylloides 10
Kalopanax septemlobusTree Aralia, Castor aralia21
Kirkophytum lyallii 10
Oplopanax horridusDevil's Club22
Panax ginsengGinseng, Chinese ginseng25
Panax japonicusJapanese Ginseng11
Panax pseudoginsengGinseng, Japanese ginseng13
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[43]Fernald. M. L. Gray's Manual of Botany.
A bit dated but good and concise flora of the eastern part of N. America.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[78]Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[111]Sanders. T. W. Popular Hardy Perennials.
A fairly wide range of perennial plants that can be grown in Britain and how to grow them.
[134]Rice. G. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
[161]Yanovsky. E. Food Plants of the N. American Indians. Publication no. 237.
A comprehensive but very terse guide. Not for the casual reader.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[207]Coffey. T. The History and Folklore of North American Wild Flowers.
A nice read, lots of information on plant uses.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[233]Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants
A concise guide to a wide range of perennials. Lots of cultivation guides, very little on plant uses.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.

Readers comment                                         
Jonathan T.
Nov 1 2011 12:00AM
I would be cautious about the edibility of A. racemosa berries. I have checked several other sources, and none list the berries as edible. Indeed, several specifically state that the berries are "inedible." One authoritative source I've checked is Lee Allen Peterson's EDIBLE WILD PLANTS, Eastern/Central North America (the "Peterson Field Guide" to the subject). He is not one of those who specifies the berries as "inedible," but he does not list them as one of the edible components of A. racemosa.
marcus R.
Aug 26 2014 12:00AM
I'm eating the berries right now, and have been without ill effect for 5 years, having previously used their apple, iron, mint, licorice and sarsparilla flavor in beers, wines, and masculine roasts that give baronial British cooking a good name when I don't overcook the meat, which is always. I'm aiming for condensed and precise with this encomium; hope I didn't hit pompous by mistake Thanks PFAF founders, for this great site
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