California Spikenard (Aralia californica)

Posted by Nathan on 24th Dec 2016

Aralia californica

Latin Name: Aralia californica

Common name(s): California Spikenard, Western Aralia, California Ginseng, Elk Clover

Family: Araliaceae

Botany: Aralia, a member of the Ginseng family, is a deciduous perennial that can grow up to 10 feet high. It has large leaves, and yellow-greenish flowers that bloom in mid-summer, and mature into blue-black berries in early fall. According to herbalist Michael Moore, the crushed foliage is “sweet-balsamic smelling,” and the fresh berries taste something like freshly dug American Ginseng.

Habitat: Grows along creeks and springs, and any generally moist, shady area. Primarily a California plant, but also found in Southern Oregon.

History/Folklore: Long history of Native use topically for skin conditions.

Parts used: root, rhizome

Energetics: Warming

Constituents: Essential oil (falcarinone, falcarinolene), saponins, diterpene acid, tannin, resin, choline, chlorogenic acid, ursolic acid, b-sitosterol, araloside, panaxosides

Actions: Adaptogen, Alterative, Aromatic, Carminative, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Expectorant, Parturient, Stimulant, Tonic, Sedative

Medicinal uses: California Spikenard, along with its eastern relative Aralia racemosa, is an excellent remedy for people with moist lung conditions. It’s both tonic and also soothing expectorant. The syrup in particular is helpful when first getting throat irritation and sharp, dry, and percussive cough. In addition, Aralia’s anti-inflammatory properties are useful for treating gout, rheumatism, and backaches. It’s also helpful for stomachaches, and reducing gas and wind. Aralia is also considered a uterine tonic, and can help address symptoms arising from premenstrual syndrome.

Topically, it has a history of being used for bruises, rashes, eczema, and other skin conditions. The juice of the berries can be placed in the ear to treat ear infections.

Common preparation: Tea, tincture, syrup, poultice

Contraindications: None found.

Notes: The roots are also edible and can be cooked for food, and used in making herbal root beers. The berries are also used for making wine.


Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. 1993, University of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.