Herbs & Plants

Rhus glabra

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

Synonyms: Upland Sumach. Pennsylvania Sumach. Rhus copallinum (Mountain Sumach). Rhus typhinum (Staghorn or Velvet Sumach).

Common Name: Smooth sumac

Parts Used: Bark of branches and root, dried, ripe berries, and exudation.

Habitat: Rhus glabra is native to North America, from southern Quebec west to southern British Columbia in Canada, and south to northern Florida and Arizona in the United States and Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico.
It grows on the thickets and waste ground on dry soil and by streams. The best specimens are found in rich moist soil.

Rhus glabra has a spreading, open-growing shrub growing up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) tall, rarely to 5 metres (16 ft). The leaves are alternate, 30–50 cm long, compound with 11-31 leaflets, each leaflet 5–11 cm long, with a serrated margin. The leaves turn scarlet in the fall. The flowers are tiny, green, produced in dense erect panicles 10–25 centimetres (3.9–9.8 in) tall, in the spring, later followed by large panicles of edible crimson berries that remain throughout the winter. The buds are small, covered with brown hair and borne on fat, hairless twigs. The bark on older wood is smooth and grey to brown…...CLICK & SEE THE PICTURES

In late summer it sometimes forms galls on the underside of leaves, caused by the parasitic sumac leaf gall aphid, Melaphis rhois. The galls are not harmful to the tree.

When broken on the plant, a milky fluid is exuded from both bark and leaves, which forms later a solid gum-like body.

Succeeds in a well-drained fertile soil in full sun. Tolerates poor sandy soils. A very hardy plant, when fully dormant it can tolerate temperatures down to at least -25°c. However, the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. A fast-growing but short-lived plant in the wild. Single-stem plants are short-lived in cultivation, but if the plants are coppiced regularly and allowed to form thickets, then they will live longer and also be more ornamental with larger leaves. Any coppicing is best carried out in early spring. It is a very ornamental plant, there are some named varieties. Closely allied to R. typhina, it hybridizes with that species where their ranges overlap. Plants have brittle branches and these can be broken off in strong winds. Plants are also susceptible to coral spot fungus. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. A good bee plant. 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. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Special Features: Attracts birds, North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.

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:
Fruit – raw or cooked. An acid flavour, it has been used as a substitute for lemon juice. The fruit is rather small and with very little flesh, but it is produced on fairly large panicles 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. Root – peeled and eaten raw. This report should be treated with some caution due to possible toxicity. Young shoots – peeled and eaten raw. This report should be treated with some caution due to possible toxicity. The bark has been eaten as a delicacy by children. This report should be treated with some caution due to possible toxicity.

Constituents: The berries contain free malic acid and acid calcium malate coexist, with tannic and gallic acids, fixed oil, extractive, red colouring matter, and a little volatile oil. The active properties of both bark and berries yield to water.

Medicinal Uses: The bark is tonic, astringent, and antiseptic; the berries refrigerant and diuretic.

A strong decoction, or diluted fluid extract, affords an agreeable gargle in angina, especially when combined with potassium chlorate. Where tannin drugs are useful, as in diarrhoea, the fluid extract is an excellent astringent.

The bark, in decoction or syrup, has been found useful in gonorrhoea, leucorrhoea, diarrhoea, dysentery, hectic fever, scrofula and profuse perspiration from debility. Combined with the barks of slippery elm and white pine and taken freely, the decoction is said to have been greatly beneficial in syphilis. As an injection for prolapsus uteri and ani, and for leucorrhoea, and as a wash in many skin complaints, the decoction is valuable. For scald-head it can be simmered in lard, or the powdered root-bark can be applied as a poultice to old ulcers, forming a good antiseptic.

A decoction of the inner bark of the root is helpful for the sore-mouth resulting from mercurial salivation, and also for internal use in mercurial diseases. A free use of the bark will produce catharsis.

The berries may be used in infusion in diabetes, strangury bowel complaints, and febrile diseases; also as a gargle in quinsy and ulcerations of the mouth and throat, and as a wash for ringworm, tetters, offensive ulcers, etc.

The astringent excrescences, when powdered and mixed with lard or linseed oil, are useful in haemorrhoids.

The mucilagic exudation, if the bark be punctured in hot weather, has been used advantageously in gleet and several urinary difficulties.

Other Uses:
The leaves, and, to a less extent, the bark, are largely used in tanning leather and dyeing. This Sumach, for the manufacture of extract for tanner’s use, is largely cultivated in Virginia, where the annual crop amounts to from 7,000 to 8,000 tons. The percentage of tannin in Virginian Sumach varies from 16 to 25 per cent. That in the European or Sicilian Sumach (R. coriaria) falls from 6 to 8 per cent below the percentage of the Virginian Sumach, yet the European is preferred by tanners and dyers, since by its use it is possible to make the finer, white leathers for gloves and fancy shoes.

The American product gives the leather a yellow colour, apparently due to the presence of quercitrin and quercitin.

Large quantities of a dark-red, semi-fluid, bitter, astringent extract are prepared in Virginia from Sumach, and is said to contain 25 to 30 per cent of tannin. It is used both in Europe and America. An infusion of the berries affords an excellent black dye for wool. A medicinal wine can also be prepared from them.

Oil of Rhus may be extracted from the seeds of this and other species of the genus. It will attain a tallow-like consistency on standing, and can be made into candles, which burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke.

Known Hazards:   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’.

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