Herb: Leather Wood

Latin name: Dirca palustris

Family: Thymelaeaceae (Mezereum Family)

Medicinal use of Leather Wood:

Leatherwood was employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide variety of ailments. It is little used in modern herbalism and any use should be carried out with caution since even minute doses can cause salivation and burning of the tongue. A tea made from the bark is laxative. Another report says that it is purgative and emetic, and can produce violent vomiting. An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of pulmonary problems. A decoction of the branches has been applied as a poultice to swellings on the limbs. The plant is a folk remedy for toothaches, facial neuralgia and paralysis of the tongue, venereal disease, and has also been used to try and induce pregnancy.

Description of the plant:


180 cm
(6 feet)



Habitat of the herb:

Rich deciduous or mixed woods in moist situations, often on calcareous soils.

Other uses of Leather Wood:

The tough flexible shoots are used in basket making and as a tying material. A rope can be made from the bark fibres. The bark fibres are also used in making paper. The stems are harvested in summer, the leaves are removed and the stems steamed until the fibres can be stripped. The outer and inner barks are separated by scraping or peeling. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours or less with soda ash and then beaten with mallets or put through a blender. The paper is greenish cream in colour. A compound infusion of the roots has been used as a wash to strengthen the hair and make it grow.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Remove the fruit flesh since this can inhibit germination. Dried seed will require 2 - 3 months cold stratification. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15C. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Layering.

Cultivation of Leather Wood:

Rich deciduous or mixed woods in moist situations, often on calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Dirca palustris:

Contact with the plant can cause severe dermatitis with redness, blistering and sores in some people.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.