Herb: Tung Tree

Latin name: Aleurites fordii

Synonyms: Vernicia fordii

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)

Medicinal use of Tung Tree:

The oil from the seed is used externally to treat parasitic skin diseases, burns, scalds and wounds. The poisonous oil is said to penetrate the skin and into the muscles, when applied to surgical wounds it will cause inflammation to subside within 4 - 5 days and will leave no scar tissue after suppressing the infection. The plant is emetic, antiphlogistic and vermifuge. Extracts from the fruit are antibacterial.

Description of the plant:


7 m
(23 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Base of foothills esp. in rocky places, to 1000 metres in W. China. Montane sparse forests at elevations of 200-1500, occasionallyto 2000 metres.

Edible parts of Tung Tree:

Seed. There are no more details but the report should be treated with caution since the oil from the seed is said to be poisonous.

Other uses of the herb:

The seed contains up to 58% of a superior quick-drying oil that is used in the manufacture of lacquers, varnishes, paints, linoleum, oilcloth, resins, artificial leather, felt-base floor coverings, greases, brake-linings and in clearing and polishing compounds. Tung oil products are used to coat containers for food, beverages, and medicines, for insulating wires and other metallic surfaces, as in radios, radar, telephone and telegraph instruments. During World War II, the Chinese used tung oil for motor fuel. It tended to gum up the engines, so they processed it to make it compatible with gasoline. The mixture worked fine. The oil is very resistant to weathering. The oil is said to have insecticidal properties. The fruit contains between 14 - 20% oil, the kernel 53 - 60% and the nut 30 - 40%. The oil contains 75 - 80% a-elaeo stearic, 15% oleic-, ca 4% palmitic-, and ca 1% stearic-acids. Tannins, phytosterols, and a poisonous saponin are also reported. Trees yield 4.5 - 5 tonnes of fruit per hectare. Tung trees usually begin bearing fruit the third year after planting, and are usually in commercial production by the fourth or fifth year, attaining maximum production in 10 - 12 years. Average life of trees in United States is 30 years. Fruits mature and drop to ground in late September to early November. At this time they contain about 60% moisture. Fruits must be dried to 15% moisture before processing. Fruits should be left on ground 3 - 4 weeks until hulls are dead and dry, and the moisture content has dropped below 30%. Fruits are gathered by hand into baskets or sacks. Fruits do not deteriorate on ground until they germinate in spring.

Propagation of Tung Tree:

Seed - sow March/April in a warm greenhouse. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on for at least the first winter in a greenhouse. Plant out in early summer and give the plants some protection from the cold for their first winter outdoors. Tung seed are normally short-lived and must be planted during the season following harvest. Seeds are best hulled before planting, as hulls retard germination. Hulled seed may be planted dry, but soaking in water for 5 - 7 days hastens germination. Stratification, cold treatment or chemical treatment of seeds brings about more rapid and uniform germination. Dry-stored seed should be planted no later than February, stratified seed by mid-March, cold-treated and chemical treated seed by early April. Cuttings of mature wood in a frame. Most successful budding is done in late August, by the simple shield method, requiring piece of budstock bark, including a bud, that will fit into a cut in the rootstock bar. A T-shaped cut is made in bark of rootstock at point 5 - 7.5 cm above ground level, the flaps of bark loosened, shield-bud slipped inside flaps and the flaps tied tightly over the transplanted bud with rubber budding stripe, 12 cm long, 0.6 cm wide, 0.002 thick. After about 7 days, rubber stripe is cut to prevent binding. As newly set buds are susceptible to cold injury, soil is mounded over them for winter. When growth starts in spring, soil is pulled back and each stock cut back to within 3.5 cm of the dormant bud. Later, care consists of keeping all suckers removed and the trees well-cultivated. Spring budding is done only as a last resort if necessary trees are not propagated the previous fall.

Cultivation of the herb:

Base of foothills esp. in rocky places, to 1000 metres in W. China. Montane sparse forests at elevations of 200-1500, occasionallyto 2000 metres.

Known hazards of Aleurites fordii:

The oil from the seed is poisonous. The leaves and seeds contain a toxic saponin. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.