Herb: Vegetable Tallow

Latin name: Sapium sebiferum

Synonyms: Croton sebiferus, Stillingia sebifera

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family)

Medicinal use of Vegetable Tallow:

The leaves and the roots are depurative, diuretic and laxative. A decoction is used in the treatment of oedema, constipation, poisoning by two plants - Polygonum perfoliatum and Tripterygium wilfordii, skin diseases etc. The leaves are particularly useful for treating boils. The seed is antidote, emetic, hydragogue and purgative. In China it is taken internally, which is a rather questionable practice considering its toxic nature. The root bark is diuretic. It is used in the treatment of snake bites and skin ulcers. The juice of the tree (the sap is probably meant here) is acrid and vesicant.

Description of the plant:


9 m
(30 feet)

January to

Habitat of the herb:

Found wild in the foothills around Dehra Dun.

Edible parts of Vegetable Tallow:

The wax from the seed is used as a lard substitute or in cacao butter. The seed contains 8.1 - 9.2% protein and 40.5 - 50.7% fat.

Other uses of the herb:

The seed is coated with a wax. This wax, which comprises about 24% of the seed, can be used to make candles and soap. It has excellent burning quality, and gives an inodorous clear bright flame. The wax is also used for making soap, cloth dressing and fuel. Pure tallow fat is known in commerce as Pi-yu. The wax is separated from the seed by steeping it in hot water and skimming off the wax as it floats to the surface. The wax is solid at temperatures below 40C. It is said to change grey hair to black. The seed contains about 20% of a drying oil. It is used to make candles and soap. The oil is used in making varnishes and native paints because of its quick-drying properties. It is also used in machine oils and as a crude lamp oil. The pure oil expressed from the inner part of the seeds is known in commerce as Ting-yu. The residual cake, after the oil is expressed, is used as manure, particularly for tobacco fields. The leaves are rich in tannin, a black dye can be obtained by boiling them in alum water.The plant is used as a soil binder along the sides of roads and canals. The wood is white, even and close grained, light, soft or moderately hard. It is suitable for carving and is also used for making blocks in Chinese printing, furniture making and incense. The wood is light and soft. It is used for fuel.

Propagation of Vegetable Tallow:

Seed - do not cold stratify the seed since this can lead to secondary dormancy. Sown in April in a warm greenhouse, it usually germinates within 4 weeks. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Overwinter in a greenhouse for at least their first 2 winters and plant out in late spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Found wild in the foothills around Dehra Dun.

Known hazards of Sapium sebiferum:

The sap is poisonous.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.