Medical Herbs Catalogue



Family: N.O. Anacardiaceae The American Poison Ivy (Rhus Toxicodendron, Linn.) is one of the species of Sumachs, an attractive group of plants widely distributed in Europe, Asia and North America, varying much in habit from low bushes to moderately-sized trees, many of them familiar denizens of our gardens, for the sake of their ornamental foliage, which assumes beautiful tints in autumn, some of the varieties also bearing showy fruits.

Several species are of considerable importance, their value being chiefly in their leaves and sap, and in the large galls that are found on their leaves after they have been punctured by a tiny insect. The so-called Chinese Galls, of an irregular shape and astringent taste, which are imported into this country from China for tanning purposes, are formed by the puncture of the leaves of Rhus semialata, a species of aphis, and are of considerable economic value, containing 70 to 80 per cent of gallotannic acid.

SUMACH, SMOOTH (Rhus Coriaria)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Rhus glabra (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Anacardiaceae
Description Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Dosages
Synonyms: Upland Sumach. Pennsylvania Sumach. Rhus copallinum (Mountain Sumach). Rhus typhinum (Staghorn or Velvet Sumach).
Parts Used: Bark of branches and root, dried, ripe berries, and exudation.
Habitat: Almost all parts of the United States and Canada.

Description: There are several varieties of the plant, such as Rhus typhinum (Staghorn or Velvet Sumach), the berries of which now often replace those of R. glabra and R. copallinum (Mountain or Dwarf Sumach), and they should be carefully distinguished from the poisonous species. The non-poisonous have their fruit clothed with acid, crimson hairs, and their panicles are compound, dense, and terminal; the poisonous varieties have axillary panicles, and smooth fruit.

The flowers of R. glabra are greenish-red, and the fruit grows in clusters of small berries. It is a shrub from 6 to 15 feet high, with straggling branches and a pale-grey bark, sometimes slightly red. It grows in thickets and waste places. The berries should be gathered before the rain has removed their downy covering, for they are no longer acid when this has been washed off. They have a sour, astringent, not unpleasant taste, and are eaten freely by the country people. Their powder is a brownish-red.

When broken on the plant, a milky fluid is exuded from both bark and leaves, which forms later a solid gum-like body.

Excrescences are produced under the leaves containing quantities of tannic and gallic acid. They have been used as a substitute for imported Chinese galls, and found preferable.

The leaves, and, to a less extent, the bark, are largely used in tanning leather and dyeing. This Sumach, for the manufacture of extract for tanner's use, is largely cultivated in Virginia, where the annual crop amounts to from 7,000 to 8,000 tons. The percentage of tannin in Virginian Sumach varies from 16 to 25 per cent. That in the European or Sicilian Sumach (R. coriaria) falls from 6 to 8 per cent below the percentage of the Virginian Sumach, yet the European is preferred by tanners and dyers, since by its use it is possible to make the finer, white leathers for gloves and fancy shoes.

The American product gives the leather a yellow colour, apparently due to the presence of quercitrin and quercitin.

Large quantities of a dark-red, semi-fluid, bitter, astringent extract are prepared in Virginia from Sumach, and is said to contain 25 to 30 per cent of tannin. It is used both in Europe and America. An infusion of the berries affords an excellent black dye for wool. A medicinal wine can also be prepared from them.

Oil of Rhus may be extracted from the seeds of this and other species of the genus. It will attain a tallow-like consistency on standing, and can be made into candles, which burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke.

Constituents: The berries contain free malic acid and acid calcium malate coexist, with tannic and gallic acids, fixed oil, extractive, red colouring matter, and a little volatile oil. The active properties of both bark and berries yield to water.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The bark is tonic, astringent, and antiseptic; the berries refrigerant and diuretic.

A strong decoction, or diluted fluid extract, affords an agreeable gargle in angina, especially when combined with potassium chlorate. Where tannin drugs are useful, as in diarrhoea, the fluid extract is an excellent astringent.

The bark, in decoction or syrup, has been found useful in gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, diarrhoea, dysentery, hectic fever, scrofula and profuse perspiration from debility. Combined with the barks of slippery elm and white pine and taken freely, the decoction is said to have been greatly beneficial in syphilis. As an injection for prolapsus uteri and ani, and for leucorrhoea, and as a wash in many skin complaints, the decoction is valuable. For scald-head it can be simmered in lard, or the powdered root-bark can be applied as a poultice to old ulcers, forming a good antiseptic.

A decoction of the inner bark of the root is helpful for the sore-mouth resulting from mercurial salivation, and also for internal use in mercurial diseases. A free use of the bark will produce catharsis.

The berries may be used in infusion in diabetes, strangury bowel complaints, and febrile diseases; also as a gargle in quinsy and ulcerations of the mouth and throat, and as a wash for ringworm, tetters, offensive ulcers, etc.

The astringent excrescences, when powdered and mixed with lard or linseed oil, are useful in haemorrhoids.

The mucilagic exudation, if the bark be punctured in hot weather, has been used advantageously in gleet and several urinary difficulties.

Dosages: Of the fluid extract of bark, 1 to 2 drachms. Of the fluid extract of berries, 1 to 2 drachms. Of the decoction of bark, or infusion of berries, 1 to 4 fluid ounces. Rhusin, 1 to 2 grains.

The following has been recommended for gonorrhoea: Take 1 scruple each of the exudation and Canada balsam. Form into a pill mass with a sufficient quantity of powdered pokeroot, and divide into 10 pills, of which 1 or 2 may be taken three or four times daily.

SUMACH, SWEET (Toxicodendron succedaneum
printed as Rhus succedanea)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Rhus aromatica (AIT.)
Family: N.O. Anacardiaceae
Medicinal Action and Uses Other Species
Synonyms: Fragrant Sumach.
Part Used: Bark.

This species of Sumach, usually growing about 4 feet high, was introduced into England as an ornamental shrub in 1759.

The bark is used in tanning.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The root-bark is astringent and diuretic. Used in diabetes and excessive discharge from kidneys and bladder. The wood exudes a peculiar odour and is used by the Indians in Arizona, California and New Mexico for making baskets.

Other Species:

Medicinal Action and Uses: A tincture of the fresh leaves is used for eczema and skin diseases.

The American species, R. venenata and R. toxicodendron, produce effects imputed to the Upas-tree of Java. The hands and arms, and sometimes even the whole body, becomes greatly swollen from simply touching or carrying a branch of one of these plants, and the swelling is accompanied with intolerable pain and inflammation, ending in ulceration. Some people, however, are able to handle the plants with impunity. R. venenata, called the POISON SUMACH or POISON ELDER, is a tall shrub with pinnate leaves composed of eleven or thirteen smoothish leaflets. (Cotinus coggygria printed as
Rhus cotinus)
Click on graphic for larger image

From the sap of R. vernicifera, the VARNISH SUMACH or Lacquer-tree of China and Japan, the varnish used in the manufacture of the famous Japanese lacquer-ware is prepared. The leaves and galls are also rich in tannin, and are used extensively for tanning various kinds of leather, and the expressed oil of the seed serves for candles. Japan Wax is obtained in Japan by expression and heat, or by the action of solvents from the fruit of another Sumach, R. succedanea. It consists almost entirely of palmitin and free palmitic acid, and is not a true wax; it is used in candlemaking, for adulterating white beeswax and in making pomades.

R. copallina, a North American tree, provides copal resin, a transparent substance with a slight tinge of brown, which when dissolved in any volatile liquid, generally in oil of turpentine, forms one of the most perfect and beautiful of all the varnishes (known by the name of Copal Varnish).

The VENETIAN SUMACH, R. cotinus, though a native of Southern Europe, is so hardy a shrub as not to be injured by the frost of our winters, and is a familiar plant in our gardens, being cultivated for the very singular and ornamental appearance of its elongated, feathery fruit-stalks, which, combined with its blue-green leaves, have led to its common name of SMOKE PLANT. Both root and stem have been used for dyeing a yellow, approaching to orange, the colour obtained being, however, somewhat fugitive. The leaves are largely used for tanning.

Sumac Yellow is obtained from the dried and powdered branches of R. coriana, the ELM-LEAVED SUMACH, a shrub indigenous to the Mediterranean region, where it is cultivated for dyeing yellow and for tanningleather, the SICILIAN SUMACH being considered the best quality. The shoots are cut down every year close to the root, and after being dried are reduced to powder by means of a mill. An infusion of this yields a fawn colour, bordering on green, which may be improved by the judicious application of mordants. The principal use, however, of Sumach in dyeing is the production of black, by means of the large quantity of gallic acid which it affords. The bark is used instead of the oak for tanning leather, and it is said that all Turkey leather is tanned with this plant. The leaves and seeds are used in medicine and are considered astringent and styptic: the Tripoli merchants sell the seeds at Aleppo, where they are used to provoke an appetite before meals. The shrub is frequent in our gardens, retaining its dense clusters of deep red, rough berries till winter, after the leaves have fallen. It is quite hardy, and like most of the Sumachs is easily propagated by seed.