Herb: Lacquer Tree

Latin name: Rhus verniciflua

Synonyms: Rhus vernicifera, Toxicodendron vernicifluum

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)

Medicinal use of Lacquer Tree:

Stimulant, tonic. The leaves are used in the treatment of wasting diseases and internal parasites. The seed is haemostatic and is used in the treatment of dysentery. A resin from the plant is emmenagogue, haemolytic, stimulant, tonic and vermifuge. 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:


15 m
(49 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Woods and thickets on mountain slopes, usually around 1200 metres.

Other uses of Lacquer Tree:

A non-drying oil is obtained from the fruit and is used in making candles. The fruit contains about 25% fat. The fruit is crushed, heated and then crushed to extract the oil. The oil attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke. The sap can be used as a varnish or a lacquer. It is obtained by incision of the stem, which is best done in mid-summer. The lacquer is frequently used in Japanese art, it requires a damp atmosphere in which to dry and harden, a moist cave being ideal. It is resistant to acids, alkalis, alcohol and temperatures up to 70C. The leaves and galls formed as a result of insect damage are rich in tannin. The leaves can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant.

Propagation of the herb:

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. 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 Lacquer Tree:

Woods and thickets on mountain slopes, usually around 1200 metres.

Known hazards of Rhus verniciflua:

The plant contains toxic substances that can cause severe irritation to some people. The sap can be particularly caustic. All parts of the plant contain resinous phenolic compounds known as urushiols. Direct contacr with the plant, exposure to smoke or fumes from a burning plant or even contact with pets or animals that have touched the plant can cause severe allergic dermatitis in some individuals. There is usually a latent period of about 12 - 24 hours from the moment of contact, this is followed by a reddening and severe blistering of the skin. Even plant specimens 100 or more years old can cause problems.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.