Herb: Dwarf Sumach


Latin name: Rhus copallina


Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)



Medicinal use of Dwarf Sumach:

A decoction of the root has been used in the treatment of dysentery. An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of VD. A poultice of the root has been applied to sores and skin eruptions. A tea made from the bark has been drunk to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers. A decoction of the bark has been used as a wash for blisters and sunburn blisters. An infusion of the leaves has been used to cleanse and purify skin eruptions. The berries were chewed in the treatment of bed-wetting and mouth sores. Some caution is advised in the use of the leaves and stems of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Shrub

Height:
2 m
(6 1/2 foot)

Flovering:
July to
September

Habitat of the herb:

Generally found in dry soils on hillsides, along the margins of woodlands and roads, and in abandoned fields.

Edible parts of Dwarf Sumach:

Fruit - raw or cooked. An agreeable acid flavour. The fruit is only 3 - 5mm long with very little flesh, but it is borne on dense panicles and is thus easily harvested. When soaked for 10 - 30 minutes in hot or cold water it makes a very refreshing lemonade-like drink (without any fizz of course). The mixture should not be boiled since this will release tannic acids and make the drink astringent.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves are rich in tannin, so is the bark and the fruit. The leaves can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant. The leaves contain 10 - 25% tannin. Up to 35.8% has been obtained from some plants. An oil is extracted from the seeds. It attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke. The plants extensive root system makes it useful for stabilizing soils. A black dye is obtained from the fruit. A resin, "copal resin", is obtained from the sap of this plant. When dissolved in any volatile liquid, such as oil of turpentine, it makes a beautiful varnish. (Is this a mistaken entry? Perhaps it belongs with one of the toxic species). Wood - light, soft, coarse grained. It weighs 32lb per cubic foot. Sometimes used for small posts.

Propagation of Dwarf Sumach:

Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 - 90c and allowing it to cool) prior to sowing in order to leach out any germination inhibitors. This soak water can be drunk and has a delicious lemon-flavour. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers in late autumn to winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Generally found in dry soils on hillsides, along the margins of woodlands and roads, and in abandoned fields.

Known hazards of Rhus copallina:

There are some suggestions that the sap of this species can cause a skin rash in susceptible people, but this has not been substantiated. See also notes in 'Cultivation Details'.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.