What is Sichuan Pepper?
Prickly Ash Peel (hua jiao, 花椒), also known as Pericarpium Zanthoxyli or Sichuan Pepper, is the dried ripe pericarp of Zanthoxylum schinifolium Sieb. et Zucc, or Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim, which is a deciduous shrub belonging to the family Rutaceae. Sichuan Pepper is a very common spice used in Chinese cuisine, especially in Sichuan dishes and delicacies such as Fish Maw.
In North America, Zanthoxylum was referred to by some native Americans as the “toothache tree” for its ability to treat toothaches and mouth sores (which was achieved by chewing or pulverizing the bark). Chewing the bark activates a chemical in prickly ash bark called nerculin, which produces a localized numbing effect in the tongue and mouth.
Other than being a popular food additive, Sichuan Pepper is also frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as documented in Classic of the Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, 神农本草经). There are more than 100 kinds of TCM prescriptions containing this herb, such as Da Jian Zhong Tang (大建中汤) and Wu Mei Wan (乌梅丸). Sichuan Pepper is usually collected in the fall, when the fruits are ripe. After the removal of impurities from the fruit, Sichuan Pepper is dried under the sun for medicinal usage.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Sichuan Pepper falls under the category of ‘Herbs that warm the Interior and expel Cold’. Such herbs are used for internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and Yang Deficiency. Warm in nature, Sichuan Pepper can help individuals with too much Cold in their body, such as those experiencing a Yin Excess or a Yang Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yin-yang balance. Pungent in taste, Sichuan Pepper tends to promote the circulations of qi and body fluids. In particular, the herb targets the Kidneys, the Spleen and the stomach.
Functions and Benefits of Sichuan Pepper
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Sichuan Pepper has the following health benefits.
Sichuan Pepper can warm the middle energize, dry Dampness and disperse Cold to alleviate pain. For stomach Cold, abdominal pain and vomiting caused by the invasion of exogenous Cold, Sichuan Pepper can be combined with other middle-energizer-warming, Cold-dispersing and vomiting-arresting herbs such as Fresh Ginger (sheng jiang, 生姜) and Nutmeg (Rou Dou Kou, 肉豆蔻) to enhance its effectiveness. For gastro-abdominal pain caused by Cold, vomiting and poor appetite caused by Deficiency and Cold in the Spleen and stomach, Sichuan Pepper can be combined with middle-energizer-warming and Spleen-invigorating herbs to enhance its effectiveness. In addition, Sichuan Pepper can be used to check diarrhea.
Sichuan Pepper can expel ascaris and kill parasites. Hence, it can be combined with middle-energizer-warming and Heat-clearing herbs to treat abdominal pain caused by helminthic accumulation, cold extremities, restlessness and vomiting caused by ascaris. For infantile oxyuriasis with perianal pruritus, the herb can be decocted alone for retention enema. Also, external usage of Sichuan Pepper may relieve itching.
How to Use Sichuan Pepper
The recommended daily dosage of Sichuan Pepper is 3 – 6g, when consumed as a decoction. If consumed in powdered form, the recommended dosage of Sichuan Pepper is 500mg – 2g. For external application, do consult your healthcare provider on the recommended dosage for your condition.
Sichuan Pepper is often stir-fried to yellowish for consumption. This lessens their Heat and toxicity while enhancing its effects in warming the stomach.
Dried Sichuan Pepper can be found in many herbal stores and Asian markets. Some vendors also sell Sichuan Pepper extracts, tablets and powders. Sichuan Pepper poultices are also available for certain skin conditions.
Cautions and Side Effects of Sichuan Pepper
Sichuan Pepper should not be used by individuals who are experiencing Yin Deficiency with Heat signs, constitutional fire or Heat in the Lungs or stomach that causes coughing or phlegm, accumulation of Heat in the large intestine with hemafecia, or pregnancy.
Also, animal studies have shown that over-consumption of Sichuan Pepper may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, twitching of limbs, difficulty in breathing and coma.
We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Sichuan Pepper to your healthcare routine!
Here is a summary for Sichuan Pepper:
- Herb name (Chinese): 花椒
- Herb name (Pin Yin): huā jiāo
- Herb name (English): Pricklyash Peel
- Herb name (Botanical): Pericarpium Zanthoxyli
- Origin of species: Zanthoxylum schinifolium Sieb. et Zucc.; Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim.
- Part(s) of herb used: Pericarp of ripe fruit
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Most parts of China, in particular Sichuan
- Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent; Warm; Administrates the Spleen, Stomach and Kidney Meridians
- Actions: Eases symptoms of skin irritations (rash or itching); Relieves pain in the abdominal region; Relieves symptoms of nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rash or itching around the rectum associated with intestinal parasites
Chung, J. W., Oh, J. U., Lee, S., & Kim, S. J. (2013). Inhibition of inducible nitric oxide synthase, cycleooxygenase-2 and lipid peroxidation by methanol extract of Pericarpium zanthoxyli. Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 12(3), 369-375.[Accessed on 16th February 2023]
Luo, J., Ke, J., Hou, X., Li, S., Luo, Q., Wu, H., … & Zhang, Z. (2022). Composition, structure and flavor mechanism of numbing substances in Chinese prickly ash in the genus Zanthoxylum: A review. Food Chemistry, 373, 131454. [Accessed on 16th February 2023]
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