Herb: Sweet Gum


Latin name: Liquidambar styraciflua


Family: Hamamelidaceae (Witch-hazel Family)



Medicinal use of Sweet Gum:

A resin obtained from the trunk of the tree (see "Uses notes" below) is antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, parasiticide, poultice, salve, sedative, stimulant, vulnerary. It is chewed in the treatment of sore throats, coughs, asthma, cystitis, dysentery etc. Externally, it is applied to sores, wounds, piles, ringworm, scabies etc. The resin is an ingredient of "Friar's Balsam", a commercial preparation based on Styrax benzoin that is used to treat colds and skin problems. The mildly astringent inner bark is used in the treatment of diarrhoea and childhood cholera.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Tree

Height:
25 m
(82 feet)

Flovering:
May


Scent:
Scented
Tree

Habitat of the herb:

Swampy woods which are often inundated annually and on rich bottom lands.

Edible parts of Sweet Gum:

A chewing gum and a stabilizer for cakes etc is obtained from the resin. It can also be chewed to sweeten the breath.

Other uses of the herb:

The aromatic resin "Storax" is obtained from the trunk of this tree. It forms in cavities of the bark and also exudes naturally. It is harvested in autumn. Production can be stimulated by beating the trunk in the spring. The resin has a wide range of uses including medicinal, incense, perfumery, soap and as an adhesive. It is also chewed and used as a tooth cleaner. Wood - heavy, fairly hard, fine-grained, not strong, light, tough, resilient. It weighs about 37lb per cubic foot. The wood takes a high polish and can be stained then used as a cherry, mahogany or walnut substitute. It is also used for furniture, flooring, fruit dishes, veneer etc.

Propagation of Sweet Gum:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Harvest the seed capsules at the end of October or November, dry in a warm place and extract the seed by shaking the capsule. Stored seed requires 1 - 3 months stratification and sometimes takes 2 years to germinate. Sow it as early in the year as possible. Germination rates are often poor. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame or greenhouse for their first winter. Since they resent root disturbance, it is best to plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer of their second year and give them some protection from cold for their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Suckers in early spring. Layering in October/November. Takes 12 months.

Cultivation of the herb:

Swampy woods which are often inundated annually and on rich bottom lands.

Known hazards of Liquidambar styraciflua:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.