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American Spikenard Plant Care

Updated on January 25, 2020
Willow Sidhe profile image

Willow Sidhe is a gardening enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience growing and caring for plants - both indoors and outdoors.

American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) thrives in hardiness zones 3 through 7, and it is not frost tender. The plant is native to Canada and eastern North America, but can also be found growing in the Midwest.

Spikenard grows best in woodland gardens, and it is often found thriving along rocky, rich banks of shady streams. The shrub makes a beautiful addition to any home garden or landscape.

What is Spikenard?

Often called Aralia plant or Aralia flower, American spikenard is a relative of ginseng. Other common names for the shrub include aralia, Indian spikenard, spignet, wild licorice, petty morrel, like of man, manroot, and old man's root.

An herbaceous perennial plant or shrub, it reaches up to 6 feet in height and makes a striking display in the garden. The plant produces tiny white and green flowers in the summer, and fleshy, dark purple berries that sometimes appear almost black. However, American spikenard is most prized for its huge, heart-shaped leaves that reach up to 8 inches in length.

Aralia's large, heart-shaped leaves can reach up to 8 inches in length.
Aralia's large, heart-shaped leaves can reach up to 8 inches in length. | Source

Spikenard Plant Cultivation

Although it is herbaceous, American spikenard is limited by its size. It is best used in the landscape as a shrub to screen an area or as a foundation plant. For the best results, plant spikenard on the north or east side of a structure or building. In woodland gardens, the shrub makes a great understory plant.

Regardless of where you plant, make sure you allow plenty of room for the plants to spread. American spikenard pairs very well with other bold plants including hostas and ferns, and gives an almost tropical feel to the garden. Don’t plant this large shrub next to smaller plants, as it will easily overtake them.

Aralia prefers light to deep shade, although it will tolerate some sun. The plant requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil and good air circulation. Shelter plants from strong winds if necessary.

To grow from seed, sow in the fall or winter in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. Germination typically occurs within 1 to 4 months. For their first winter, move seedlings into individual pots and grow in partial shade in the greenhouse. Move them to the final growing location in spring when they have reached about 10 inches in height.

Once established, the shrubs are very difficult to move, so make sure you choose a desirable planting site the first time.

Dig up the roots in late summer or early fall to divide or use medicinally. To propagate from the root, store the roots upside down in pots full of sand, and then pot them in early spring. Divide suckers in late winter, and if desired, plant suckers directly into their permanent growing positions.

The dark purple berries of the American spikenard plant are a favorite of birds.
The dark purple berries of the American spikenard plant are a favorite of birds. | Source

How to Use American Spikenard

As a medicinal herb, the Aralia plant has been used to treat a wide range of ailments. The root is harvested and made into various natural remedies. The root has also been used to flavor teas and to make “root beer.” Native Americans used the root as a food, and for many years, it has been used in cough syrups.

  • Rheumatic Disorders – Make a decoction by simmering ½ oz. dried spikenard root in 1 pint of water for 20 to 30 minutes, then straining. Drink three times daily for the best results.
  • Coughing, Bronchitis, and Whooping Cough – Make syrup by combining 1 cup of the strained decoction with 1 cup of sugar or honey. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Take 1 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Eczema and Other Skin Conditions – Make a poultice by mixing ½ oz. of dried powdered root with a little water to make a paste. Spread on gauze, and then place on the affected area.
  • Food – Prepare roots and the tips of young shoots like any other vegetable. Eat the edible leaves raw or cooked. Make the berries into wine or use in jelly as you would any other berry.


Never take herbal remedies without consulting a doctor first, especially if you are taking prescription medication, as harmful interactions may occure. Do not consume American spikenard while pregnant or nursing. The plant is reported to have been used as an abortifacient by the Iroquois and Chippewa tribes.

American Spikenard Care Overview

Light to Deep Shade
Plant on North or East Side of Buidlings
Don't Plant Next to Small Plants
Protection from Wind
Shelter From Strong Winds
Pair with Hostas or Ferns
Fertile, Well-Drained Soil
Keep Soil Moist
Use as a Screen or Foundation Plant
The small, white-green flowers of American Spikenard appear in the summer.
The small, white-green flowers of American Spikenard appear in the summer. | Source

In Which Hardiness Zone Have You Successfully Grown American Spikenard?

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Willow, this was an interesting hub about that plant. Thanks for sharing some information on this plant that I never heard of before. Voted up!


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