Herb: Tree Of Heaven

Latin name: Ailanthus altissima

Synonyms: Ailanthus glandulosa, Toxicodendron altissimum

Family: Simaroubaceae (Quassia-wood Family)

Medicinal use of Tree Of Heaven:

The tree of heaven is not often used in Western herbal medicine, though it is more popular in the Orient. Various parts of the plant are used, though the bark is the part most commonly used - however, it contains a glycoside that has not been fully researched and so should be used with caution. The root and stem bark are antispasmodic, astringent, bitter, cardiac depressant, diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, rubefacient and vermifuge. The vermifuge properties do not act on round worms or earthworms. A nauseatingly bitter herb, it is used internally to treat malaria and fevers, it also slows the heart rate and relaxes spasms. It needs to be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner since the bark readily causes vomiting. In China, the bark is a popular remedy for dysentery and other complaints of the bowels. In one clinical trial, 81 out of 82 patients were cured of dysentery when they were given this herb. A tincture of the root-bark has been used successfully in the treatment of cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. Tree-of-heaven is a folk remedy for asthma, cancer, diarrhoea, dysentery, dysmenorrhoea, dysuria, ejaculation (premature), epilepsy, eruption, fever, gonorrhoea, haematochezia, leucorrhoea, malaria, metrorrhagia, sores, spasms, spermatorrhoea, stomachic, tumours of the breast (China), and wet dreams The bark is harvested in the spring and dried for later use. The leaves, bark of the trunk, and roots are put into a wash to treat parasitic ulcers, itch, and eruptions. In Korea, the root bark is used in the treatment of coughs, gastric and intestinal upsets. The stembark is emmenagogue. The leaves are anthelmintic, astringent and deobstruent. The fruit is used in the treatment of bloody stools and dysentery. They have also been used to treat ophthalmic diseases. Extracts from the plant are bactericidal. The tree is used in homeopathic remedies for cancer. A resin extracted from the roots and leaves is a revulsive or vesicant.

Description of the plant:


25 m
(82 feet)

July to


Habitat of the herb:


Edible parts of Tree Of Heaven:

Leaves - cooked. Used as an emergency food in times of scarcity, they have an offensive odour. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves. The leaves contain 12% tannin, quercetin, as well as isoquercetin, and the alkaloid linuthine. The leaves and wood are high in cellulose and are used in paper-making. The crushed leaves and flowers are insect-repellent. The plant parts, when steeped in water, are said to yield an insecticidal solution. An aqueous extract of the leaves contains a substance that is toxic to other tree seedlings. When plants are put into marshy areas they drain the soil and thereby remove mosquito breeding sites. The plants have extensive root systems and sucker freely, they can be used in soil-stabilization programmes. Since the plant is tolerant of soil pollution it can also be used in land reclamation schemes on old mine tips etc. Plants can be grown as a tall hedge. Wood - fairly hard, heavy, difficult to split, not durable, coarse grained. Though little used, except in poorer countries, the wood is suitable for cabinetry, cellulose manufacture, furniture, lumber, pulp, and woodwork. It is difficult to split but easy to work and polish. The wood is also used locally for charcoal and firewood. Yields of 20 cubic metres per hectare is possible for this light wood.

Propagation of Tree Of Heaven:

Seed - best sown outdoors as soon as it is ripe. If you only have a small quantity of seed it will probably be better to sow it in a cold frame. The germination can be poor, averaging about 56%, though one kilo of seed will normally produce in the region of 6,500 usable plants. The seed germinates best if given a short cold stratification of 8 weeks. The seed is not usually produced in Britain. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle, keep them in a cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring. Root cuttings in December. Suckers, planted out in late winter.

Cultivation of the herb:


Known hazards of Ailanthus altissima:

The plant is possibly poisonous. Male flowers have potentially allergenic pollen. The leaves are toxic to domestic animals. Gardeners who fell the tree may suffer rashes. The odour of the foliage is intensely disagreeable and can cause headache and nausea, rhinitis and conjunctivitis.The pollen can cause hay fever.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.