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In Chippewa, o’kadak or aya’bidjidji’bikugi’sin, the later implying adhesiveness, spikenard is another edible and medicinal plant from the sarsaparilla family. We’ve covered its relation sarsaparilla before and eventually we’ll cover its other local close relation American ginseng. Be aware, sometimes wild sarsaparilla is also called “spikenard” (plus a few others plants too, who are less related!)
American spikenard (aralia racemosa) was common in shrubby edges of woods and thickets when Haliburton Flora was compiled, but maybe it’s gotten a downgrade to fairly common or uncommon. I’m not sure, but I don’t notice it often in our neck of Ontario. It’s also uncommon in Algonquin Park.
I tasted my first American spikenard berries at Greenmantle Farm-Wilberforce Ontario, Canada / essoncreekmaple.ca on a maple syrup tour. We also ate some purple flowering raspberries along the syrup trail. They are both late ripening compared to most of our wild plants.
Edible Uses of American Spikenard
Some say the ripe dark purple berries of spikenard taste like spicy roots. But to me the berry brings to mind a familiar jammy flavour of some jumbleberry or mixed wild jam I’ve tasted in the past. The berries make a wonderful jelly. Sadly perhaps, some of the first results in search as I write this are misinfo regarding their edibility, but more for the turkeys!
The gingery root is edible and may be best simmered in honey and candied. Like sarsaparilla, the roots can be used to make a traditional root beer (FYI it doesn’t taste like the pop or soda “root beer”). The roots can be brewed with other rootstock from the sarsaparilla family, like sassafras, or edible roots from your lawn like burdock and dandelion. As a tea the roots have a medicinal flavour.
Medicinal Uses of American Spikenard
American Spikenard is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Alterative, Diaphoretic, Expectorant, and Stimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes the roots for a cough syrup. They’re oft combined with cherry bark (for an irritable cough) or perhaps coltsfoot (for a relaxed cough), thyme or elecampane (for an old cough). The roots can be used for hay fever related cough too, perhaps taken in unison with the goldenrod, nettle, etc. recipe for allergies that we’ve shared. As an expectorant, spikenard loosens mucous in the lungs and snot stuck in the back of one’s throat. Folks with upper respiratory or chronic lung conditions may find support from this root.
One folk name is “old man’s root” referring to its use for urinary problems older men tend toward. “Life of Man” is another folk name. In many ways its used like ginseng and cultivated ginseng can be substituted.
It’s also used as a reproductive tonic for women, sometimes in preparation for childbirth. An ingredient in some abortifacient mixes and a uterine stimulant, it’s not recommended for use internally during pregnancy.
There are other uses like for gout, rheumatism, external use for some skin problems, etc., usually with the powdered root.
Growing Aralia Racemosa
Our native nard is a wonderful plant to incorporate into your landscaping. Lots of pollinators and other insects will enjoy the nard. Turkeys and other wildlife eat the berries and plant them cleaned of flesh. If you try to imitate the turkey, make sure to get all the flesh off as it’s a germination inhibitor. Or grab your plants from native plant nurseries.
Spikenard like its relations prefers a shadier spot on the edge of the forest, so make sure you don’t give it too much sunlight.
Don’t take the root internally if pregnant or trying to conceive.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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REFERENCES and Links
If you like a long read, here’s an informative blog post on spikenard by Wild Plant Culture.
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)
Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada
Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes
Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs
The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine
The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)
Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses
Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs & Herbal Formulas (8th Edition)
The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments