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Sichuan pepper regulations – common sense prevails!

Husks and hulls of Sichuan pepper with slight infection.

Regulations regarding the Sichuan pepper plant used to be dramatically strict. In the late XXth century, any import of any plant part whatsoever was completely banned!

Today, it’s possible to grow Sichuan pepper (also called Szechuan pepper) in the USA, in your very own garden. All that’s needed is to be careful as to where you get your sapling from. We recommend checking with your local agriculture department before purchasing anything.

However, here are a few guidelines regarding the legality of growing and finding sichuan pepper plants. It’s only a clarification and should help you on your research and discussions with local authorities – we cannot be held liable for any mistakes or missed updates!

Importing Sichuan pepper in the United States

Until recently, a blanket ban on all citrus-related imports was enforced to protect US crops against citrus canker, Xanthomonas citri.

  • from 1968 to 2005, the ban included all sichuan pepper materials (plants, seeds, and the spice itself).
  • in the last three years of the complete ban, it was strongly enforced and tons of sichuan pepper spice were seized, worth millions of dollars.
  • realizing that despite the massive contraband, citrus canker had not spread to US crops, the administration decided to alleviate the ban.
  • from 2005 to 2007, importing sichuan pepper (the husks used for spice) was permitted, but only after a 140°F (60°C), 10 minute heat treatment.
  • in 2007, the mandatory heat treatment was deemed no longer necessary, as long as the spice had been dried.
  • Today, it seems possible to import dried sichuan pepper spice from your travels.

However, importing live plants and active seeds is not allowed.

  • Currently, it isn’t authorized to import any plant materials of Zanthoxylum species at all, except for seeds.
  • Sprouted seeds, saplings, cuttings and other live plant materials cannot be imported.
  • Seeds procured from certain countries must follow a specific heat and chemical treatment before being imported. This is because citrus canker has been discovered in those regions and it’s important to kill the bacteria off before importing.
  • Seeds from other countries are exempted, and may be imported and planted.

Heat treating for Sichuan pepper seeds meant for sowing

Here is the list of countries where a heat treatment is necessary. Whenever seeds originate in any of these countries, the proper procedure must be implemented.

  • Asian countries – Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Kampuchea (Cambodia), Korea
  • African countries – Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Zaire
  • and a set of island-nations – Andaman Islands, Caroline Islands, Fiji Islands, Home Island in Cocos (Keeling Islands), Rodrigues Island, Seychelles, Thursday Island
  • Seeds from other countries those listed above have no import restrictions.

The treatment currently required for importing Sichuan pepper seeds into the USA from these countries is the “T203-p” protocol.

Details on the T203-p protocol

  • clean seeds of any pulp, thoroughly
  • Immerse the seed in water heated to 125 °F (51.6 °C) or more for ten minutes
  • Then soak the seeds in a solution containing 200 parts per million sodium hypochlorite at a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 for two minutes at least.

This treatment must be performed in a facility approved by the relevant US government agencies before departure. You can’t do it on your own!

  • It might seem like a drastic treatment, but it doesn’t harm the seed itself. Treatment times are short for that reason. The hull protects the plant seed and germination can still happen.

How to find Sichuan pepper plants in the United States

Check with local horticulture stores. They deal with suppliers who know how to comply to regulations.

There are many online stores that sell plants and ship them through mail.

  • It’s important to note that if they’re based abroad, the burden of complying to regulation rests upon you.

We recommend finding a US-based seller and grower. If you’re hoping to find a special Sichuan pepper variety, take it up with them. They will know if it’s possible to comply with the regulations. Hopefully they will be able to provide you with the pepper plant of your dreams!

Smart tip about Sichuan pepper regulations

It’s important to comply with these rules. Indeed, the goal is to protect native plants and avoid the spread of foreign diseases.

Sources (recovered from US government sites as of June 28th, 2019):
USDA Plants for planting manual
Plant Protection and Quarantine Treatment manual (downloads a .pdf file directly)

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Sichuan pepper hulls by leemeow ★ under © CC BY-NC 4.0
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