Archive for the ‘Araliaceae – Aralia family’ Category

American Spikenard – Aralia racemose

American Spikenard edible berries beginning to ripen
American Spikenard edible berries beginning to ripen

While the king sitteth at his table,

my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.

A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me;

he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.


Song of Solomon 1:12-13 The Christian Bible


This native of eastern North America can be found on wooded slopes, and in rich, moist woods. You will often find it growing with other woodlands plants such as Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Ginseng, Bluebells, Trillium, Bloodroot, Christmas Fern, Dutchman’s Breeches, and many others. In Rhode Island it is listed as of Special Concern, and must be treat with care.


The roots are very aromatic, with a spicy scent. It has been used to treat all types of lung ailments including coughs, TB, and catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes). It has also been used for female complaints such as leucorrhea (vaginal discharge), Prolapse of the uterus, and chlorosis (a form of anemia).


The native American Indians used this plant extensively…Potawatomi used the root to make a poultice for treatment of swellings; and the Cherokees drank a decoction of the root for backache. Today it is oft used as an alterative.


The roots were often used for making early root beers!


In magic use spikenard is grounding, balancing and calming. It is known as ‘herb of the student’ because it increases mental clarity, helping the student to learn, remember and recall more easily the lessons at hand.

Japanese Aralia – Fatsia japonica

Japanese Aralia leaves
Japanese Aralia leaves

 This evergreen plant is a great choice for shady gardens or planted in containers. The leaves have been described as ‘huge, indestructible, palmately lobed leaves, like vast outstretched, capable hands’. What an apt description. It is often used as an architectural statement in the garden, doing well behind other plants, setting off smaller, brighter plants.

This native of the coastal woodlands of Japan and Korea can grow as far north as zone 7 in protected, well mulched situations. But beware it hates freezing, so offer good protection…such as an area protected on 3 sides. It was first introduced to North America in the 19th century as an ornamental. To protect and ward off evil spirits, the people of Japan traditionally planted these on the north side of the house.

A suggested legend explaining part of the name is of Ara, a forest nymph, companion of Cynthia. Ara was sent to live among people, and she was to teach them the art of magic. She was called upon when a penalty was to be inflicted on a person!