Herb: American Spikenard

Latin name: Aralia racemosa

Family: Araliaceae (Ginseng Family)

Medicinal use of American Spikenard:

American spikenard is a sweet pungent tonic herb that is often used in modern herbalism where it acts as an alterative. 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. The root is alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and stimulant. The herb encourages sweating, is stimulating and detoxifying and so is used internally in the treatment of pulmonary diseases, asthma, rheumatism etc. Externally it is used as a poultice in treating rheumatism and skin problems such as eczema. The root is collected in late summer and the autumn and dried for later use. A drink made from the pulverised roots is used as a cough treatment. A poultice made from the roots and/or the fruit is applied to sores, burns, itchy skin, ulcers, swellings etc.

Description of the plant:


180 cm
(6 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Rich woodlands and thickets.

Edible parts of American Spikenard:

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

Propagation of the herb:

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 20C. 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. Store the roots upside down in sand and pot up in March/April. High percentage. Division of suckers in late winter. Very easy, the suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions if required.

Cultivation of American Spikenard:

Rich woodlands and thickets.

Known hazards of Aralia racemosa:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.