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American spikenard flowers are 5-parted with small white to greenish triangular petals, which reflex when in flower. Sepals are green. Flowers are bisexual with 5 stamens, with white filaments. The ovary is ovoid in shape and has 5 styles united for half their length. Individual flowers open at different times. The inflorescence is a compound spreading panicle, up to 30cm (12") long, composed of rounded umbels, each umbel on a separate stalk and the entire inflorescence branching up from the top of the stem and sometimes from the leaf axils. Each umbel composed of individually stalked flowers. Flowers mature to a dark purple or reddish-brown rounded fleshy drupe. American Spikenard is a native erect perennial herbaceous forb, growing on shrubby stems. This plant may also be known by the common name Indian Root. This plant is in the Araliaceae (Ginseng Family). The genus Aralia is considered to be a Latinization of the old French-Canadian name aralie. The species racemosa means having a flowering raceme but in this case the flowers are not directly stalked off the stem of the raceme but instead the umbels are stalked off the raceme. Over time, the American Spikenard can form colonies of plants vegetatively from a rhizomatous root system that has a thick taproot. The plant also re-seeds. Aralia racemosa is a large, spreading, shrub-like plant at maturity, dying all the way back to the ground during the dormant season so is technically not a shrub.
Lore and Uses: American Spikenard root is aromatic, pungent and slightly acrid to the taste. It contains volatile oils, resins and tannin. It has been much used for respiratory afflictions. Densmore (Ref. #5) in her study of the Minnesota Chippewa reports its use in a decoction of the root for a cough. Dried root and flowers were pounded together and made into a poultice, without boiling, to heal and draw a boil. When Wild Ginger was added in equal part, the poultice was used for fractures. Fernald (Ref. #6) writes that while the berries have a pleasant aromatic flavor they are considered inedible unless cooked. He also writes of the Menomini Indians cooking the root with wild onion, wild gooseberry and sugar for a 'fine dish'. ()Aralia racemosa matures to 4' in height and has green flowers and attractive reddish purple berries thereafter. Spikenard is a large plant for a shaded area, so broad that it could be confused for a woodland shrub, but it is a true herbaceous perennial in that it dies back each fall and emerges from the ground up each spring. It prefers wet to medium soil and blooms approximately from July to August when many woodland plants have finished flowering. Spikenard can be difficult to move once the plant is established, so put it in its permanent site if you can. Since it is a taller, wider plant, be cautious if planting next to smaller plants; it may soon overwhelm them. Also called American Spikenard, it is a close relative of Wild Sarsaparilla. (Sourcewww.prairiemoon.com)