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Zanthoxylum piperitum - (L.)DC.

Common Name Japanese Pepper Tree
Family Rutaceae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Scrub and hedges in hills and mountains in Japan[58, 184].
Range E. Asia - N. China, Japan, Korea.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (1 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Zanthoxylum piperitum Japanese Pepper Tree

Zanthoxylum piperitum Japanese Pepper Tree


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A deciduous shrub growing to about 15 feet, preferring a loamy soil but not really fussy as to soil or location. The ground-up seeds are used as a pepper substitute whilst the bark and leaves are used as a spice. The pulverized berries are the standard spice for sprinkling on broiled eel (kabayaki-unagi) and is one of the main ingredients of the blended spice called shichimi. A good forest garden plant. US Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Zanthoxylum piperitum is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6. It is in flower from April to June. The species is dioecious (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.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Fagara piperita.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Seed
Edible Uses: Condiment

Seed - cooked. It is ground into a powder and used as a condiment, a pepper substitute[1, 2, 11, 34, 183]. The fruit can also be used[116]. It is often heated in order to bring out its full flavour and can be mixed with salt for use as a table condiment[183]. The ground and dry-roasted fruit is an ingredient of the Chinese 'five spice powder'[238]. The bark and leaves are used as a spice[2, 105, 238]. Young leaves - raw or cooked. They are used in soups or as a flavouring in salads[177, 179, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

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.
Antibacterial  Antifungal  Antiperiodic  Antitussive  Carminative  Diuretic  Parasiticide  Stimulant  

Antiperiodic, antitussive, carminative, diuretic, parasiticide, stimulant[178]. The fruit contains a essential oil, flavonoids and isoquinoline alkaloids[279]. It is anthelmintic, antibacterial, antifungal and stomachic[279]. It inhibits the synthesis of prostaglandin and, in larger doses, is toxic to the central nervous system[279]. It is used in Korea in the treatment of tuberculosis, dyspepsis and internal parasites[279]. The resin contained in the bark, and especially in that of the roots, is powerfully stimulant and tonic[82].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


In Japan, the thick wood of the tree is traditionally made into a gnarled and rough-hewn wooden pestle, to use with suribachi.

Special Uses

Food Forest  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Easily grown in loamy soils in most positions, but prefers a good deep well-drained moisture retentive soil in full sun or semi-shade[1, 11, 200]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is hardy to about -15°c[184]. Flowers are formed on the old wood[206]. The bruised leaves are amongst the most powerfully aromatic of all leaves[245]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Self-sown seedlings have occasionally been observed growing in bare soil under the parent plant[K]. A good forest garden plant. Some reports suggest it can grow in deep shade. For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. A clumping plant, forming a colony from shoots away from the crown but with a limited spread [1-2]. The root pattern is suckering with new plants from underground runners away from the plant [1-2].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

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[113]. 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[78]. Suckers, removed in late winter and planted into their permanent positions[113].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Anise pepper, Anise-pepper, Chin chiao, Chinese pepper, Chopinamu, Chop'inamu, Faah jiu, Fagara, Hu chiao, Hua chiao, Hua jiao, Japanese Prickly Ash, Japanischer Pfeffer, Pepper Ash, Poivre du Sechuan, Sansho, Szechwan pepper,

Asia, Australia, China*, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Japan*, Korea*, SE Asia, Taiwan, Tasmania, Thailand,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
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Zanthoxylum alatumWinged Prickly AshShrub4.0 5-9  LMHSNM323
Zanthoxylum americanumPrickly Ash - Northern, Common pricklyash, Northern Prickly AshShrub4.0 3-7 MLMHSNM232
Zanthoxylum beecheyanum Shrub0.8 -  LMHSNM21 
Zanthoxylum bungeanum Shrub6.0 -  LMHSNM23 
Zanthoxylum clava-herculisHercules Club. Prickly Ash - Southern, Hercules' club, Southern Prickly AshShrub3.0 7-11 MLMHSNM232
Zanthoxylum coreanum Shrub0.0 -  LMHSNM11 
Zanthoxylum nitidum Climber0.0 -  LMHSNM021
Zanthoxylum planispinumWinged Prickly AshShrub3.5 5-9  LMHSNM32 
Zanthoxylum schinifoliumPeppertreeShrub4.0 5-9  LMHSNM220
Zanthoxylum simulansSzechuan Pepper, Chinese-pepper, Prickly AshShrub4.0 5-8 MLMHFSNM320

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Thomas   Tue Feb 10 09:44:39 2004

I've found in french literature (cf biblio at the end) the following info : - the powdered dried fruit is named shichimi in Japan and used on food. - Young leaves are used in soups, accompany the miso paste (japanese paste of soja beans) - The flower buds are kept in the soja sauce and rice wine.

Bibliog : - Lesley Bremnes, Les plantes aromatiques et médicinales, Bordas Nature, 1996 - B. Boullard, Les plantes médicinales du monde, Ed. Estem, 2001

Any other details about the plant is welcome! Thank you for the incredible site! Thomas

mona   Mon Jun 6 02:10:39 2005

would anyone know where in the US this might be available through mail order. Thanks, Mona

Dr. H. Gamo   Tue Jun 14 03:51:04 2005

This plant and its seed and spice" sansho" has been prohibited by FDA. I would like to know the reason. FDA might concern some chemical component. Note that sansho is an imporrtant spice for some Japanese dish.

Carlo Brini   Thu Sep 9 15:16:55 2004

what about xantossilin, an isomer of cantatidin? I read that is found in Japanese pepper. Are there any chemical relationship with the cantaridin produced by the spanish fly (Lytta vescicatoria?)

Anton Callaway   Sun Dec 9 2007

As far as I understand, the ban on sansho has been lifted if the material is heated to at least 70 degrees C before shipment. The ban was originally put in place to prevent the spread of citrus canker, a devastating bacterial disease of citrus. Zanthoxylum is also a host of this disease. This genus is in the same family as Citrus.

Dinga Bell   Wed May 7 2008

The FDA has banned "sansho" because they haven't carried out tests on it. Therefore it is suspect. But there is abso;utely no reason for their suspicion other than they are suspicious of everything that is not native to the USA. Which includes about 300,000,000 people? The last comment was mine, but the rest is from FDA source...?

Kelly   Sat Dec 6 2008

You can get it mail order in the US as a plant though "One Green World" (www.onegreenworld.com) it is under the Ornamentals and More section. Have fun. Kelly

Stephen Butler   Sun Oct 25 2009

Be careful! I chewed some raw seeds of Zanthoxylum piperitum, some of the seed lodged in my throat and it went into a spasm of swallowing to remove it - I could not breathe properly for 5 mins as I was swallowing so hard and fast. Eventually recovered, but only after being on my hands and knees for ten minutes.

   May 22 2012 12:00AM

My zanthoxylum piperitums have been steadily growing from the cute little spindles they were in spring of 2011 when I received them. One of mine was attacked by spider mites and I sprayed it with a pesticide to kill them. Both plants leafed out as expected and are busy growing new branches/root complexes. I am hopeful they will bloom either next spring or the spring of 2014. I currently use the spring leaves (not too much), called kinome in Japan, as a gift to a friend who runs a sushi bar and is from Japan. He says kinome is very hard to find here.

   Jan 8 2014 12:00AM

Actually this plant IS self-fertile. On every plant there are BOTH male and female flowers, although every flower is either male or female.

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