Herbs & Plants

Rhus chinensis

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Botanical Name : Rhus chinensis
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Rhus
Species: R. chinensis
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Sapindales

Synonyms : Rhus javanica – Thunb. non L., Rhus osbeckii – Decne., Rhus semialata – Murray.

Common Names : Chinese gall, Galla Chinensis or Wu Bei,Chinese Sumac

Habitat : Rhus chinensis is native to E. Asia – China, Japan. Grows in  lowland, hills and mountains in Japan. Also found in the Himalayas (as R. semialata) where it grows in secondary forests to 2100 metres

Rhus chinensis forms a loose, spreading small tree, reaching up to 25 feet in height . Most specimens only grow to about 12 to 15 feet tall. Theshiny, pinnately compound, five inches long leaves change to a brilliant orange, red, or yellow in the fall before dropping. The yellowish-white, summertime flowers appear in 6 to 10-inch-long and wide, terminal panicles and are quite showy. The hairy fruits which follow are orange/red and mature in October.
It is hardy to zone 8 and is frost tender. It is in flower in August, and the seeds ripen in October. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant is not self-fertile.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist soil.

Cultivation :
Succeeds in a well-drained fertile soil in full sun. A very ornamental plant, it is not fully hardy in all parts of Britain and needs a hot summer in order to fully ripen its wood, suffering winter damage to late growth if the temperature falls below about -7°c. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. The plants are also susceptible to coral spot fungus and any winter damage will exacerbate the situation. Plants have brittle branches and these can be broken off in strong winds. Many of the species in this genus are highly toxic and can also cause severe irritation to the skin of some people, whilst other species such as this one are not poisonous. It is relatively simple to distinguish which is which, the poisonous species have axillary panicles and smooth fruits whilst non-poisonous species have compound terminal panicles and fruits covered with acid crimson hairs. The toxic species are sometimes separated into their own genus, Toxicodendron, by some botanists. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

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

Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Fruit.

Edible Uses: Curdling agent; Salt.

Fruit – cooked. An acid flavour. It is also used medicinally. The fruit can be used as a salt or a rennet substitute.

Medicinal Uses :

Anthelmintic; Antiphlogistic; Antiseptic; Astringent; Cholagogue; Depurative; Haemostatic.

The leaves and the roots are depurative. They stimulate blood circulation. A decoction is used in the treatment of haemoptysis, inflammations, laryngitis, snakebite, stomach-ache and traumatic fractures. The stem bark is astringent and anthelmintic. The fruit is used in the treatment of colic. The seed is used in the treatment of coughs, dysentery, fever, jaundice, malaria and rheumatism. The root bark is cholagogue. Galls on the plant are rich in tannin. They are used internally for their astringent and styptic properties to treat conditions such as diarrhoea and haemorrhage. They are a frequent ingredient in polyherbal prescriptions for diabetes mellitus. An excrescence produced on the leaf by an insect Melaphis chinensis or M. paitan (this report probably refers to the galls produced by the plant in response to the insect) is antiseptic, astringent and haemostatic. It s used in the treatment of persistent cough with blood, chronic diarrhoea, spontaneous sweating, night sweats, bloody stool, urorrhoea and bloody sputum. It is used applied externally to burns, bleeding due to traumatic injuries, haemorrhoids and ulcers in the mouth. Some caution is advised in the use of the leaves and stems of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity.

Other Uses:
Dye; Ink; Mordant; Oil; Tannin; Wax.

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. A blue dye is obtained from insect galls on the plant, it can also be used as an ink. The galls are formed as a result of damage by the greenfly, Aphis chinensis. The galls contain up to 77% tannin. The reports do not say if the galls are harvested before or after the insect has left the gall. 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 wood is soft and is not used.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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