Herb: Stag's Horn Sumach


Latin name: Rhus typhina


Synonyms: Rhus hirta, Rhus viridiflora


Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)



Medicinal use of Stag's Horn Sumach:

Stag's horn sumach was often employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who valued it especially for its astringent qualities. It is little used in modern herbalism. Some caution is advised in the use of the leaves and stems of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity. The bark is antiseptic, astringent, galactogogue and tonic. An infusion is used in the treatment of diarrhoea, fevers, piles, general debility, uterine prolapse etc. An infusion is also said to greatly increase the milk flow of a nursing mother - small pieces of the wood were also eaten for this purpose. The inner bark is said to be a valuable remedy for piles. The roots are astringent, blood purifier, diuretic and emetic. An infusion of the roots, combined with purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) has been used in the treatment of venereal disease. A poultice of the roots has been used to treat boils. The leaves are astringent. They have been used in the treatment of asthma, diarrhoea and stomatosis. An infusion of the fruits has been used as a tonic to improve the appetite and as a treatment for diarrhoea. The berries are astringent and blood purifier. They were chewed as a remedy for bed-wetting. A tea made from the berries has been used to treat sore throats. The flowers are astringent and stomachic. An infusion has been used to treat stomach pains. The sap has been applied externally as a treatment of warts. Some caution is advised here since the sap can cause a rash on many people.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Shrub

Height:
6 m
(20 feet)

Flovering:
June to
August

Habitat of the herb:

Usually found in upland sites on rich soils, but it is also found in gravel and sandy nutrient-poor soils. It grows by streams and swamps, along roadsides, railway embankments and edges of woods.

Edible parts of Stag's Horn Sumach:

Fruit - cooked. A very sour flavour, they are used in pies. The fruit is rather small and with very little flesh, but it is produced in quite large clusters and so is 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, up to 48% has been obtained in a controlled plantation. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant. The bark, especially the root bark, and the fruits are also very rich in tannin. A yellow dye can be obtained from the roots. An orange dye can be obtained from the inner bark and central pith of the stem, mixed with bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). A black ink can be made by boiling the leaves and the fruit. 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. Pipes are made from the young shoots and are used for drawing the sap of sugar maples (Acer spp). They are also used as flutes. The plant has an extensive root system and is planted as a windbreak screen and to prevent soil erosion. Wood - soft, light, brittle, coarse grained. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot. Of no commercial value, though it is sometimes used as a rough construction wood or is employed in turning.

Propagation of Stag's Horn 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:

Usually found in upland sites on rich soils, but it is also found in gravel and sandy nutrient-poor soils. It grows by streams and swamps, along roadsides, railway embankments and edges of woods.

Known hazards of Rhus typhina:

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.