Herb: Poison Sumach

Latin name: Rhus vernix

Synonyms: Rhus venenata, Toxicodendron vernix

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)

Medicinal use of Poison Sumach:

Poison sumach has occasionally been used medicinally, though it is an extremely poisonous plant and great caution should be exercised. Any herbal use should only be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. See also the notes above on toxicity. The plant has been used in the treatment of fevers, ague, ulcerated bladder, asthma and wasting diseases. The plant has been used as a wash to treat foul ulcers.

Description of the plant:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)


Habitat of the herb:

Wooded swamps, often inundated for part of the year.

Other uses of Poison Sumach:

The leaves are rich in tannin. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant. 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. An indelible black ink can be made from the sap. A varnish is obtained from the sap, it is black, lustrous and durable.The final product is toxic. Wood - light, soft, coarse grained. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot.

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 Poison Sumach:

Wooded swamps, often inundated for part of the year.

Known hazards of Rhus vernix:

This plant contains toxic substances and skin contact with it can cause severe irritation to some people. The sap is extremely poisonous. The sap contains 3-N pentadecycatechnol. Many people are exceedingly sensitive to this, it causes a severe spreading dermatitis. The toxins only reach the skin if the plant tissues have been damaged, but even indirect contact can cause severe problems.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.