Elm-Leaved Sumach (Rhus coriaria)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Elm-Leaved Sumach
Rhus coriaria

The leaves and bark are rich in tannin[4]. The leaves can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant[169]. The fruit and bark are also used[148]. The leaves contain 20 – 35% tannin[171] and yield a yellow dye[89].

The finely ground leaves and stems provide the dyeing and tanning agent ‘sumac'[171]. The shoots are cut down annually, near to the root, for this purpose[4]. A fawn colour, bordering on green, is obtained and this can be improved with the judicious use of mordants[4]. The cultivar ‘Mesculino’ is very rich in tannin, containing up to 35%[46, 61].

An oil is extracted from the seeds[4]. It attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke[4].

A black dye is obtained from the fruit[4, 14].

A yellow and a red dye are obtained from the bark[100].

  • Medicinal Use

    The leaves and the seeds are astringent, diuretic, styptic and tonic[4, 240]. They are used in the treatment of dysentery, haemoptysis and conjunctivitis[240]. The seeds are eaten before a meal in order to provoke an appetite[4].

    Some caution is advised in the use of the leaves and stems of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity.

  • Edible Use

    The immature fruits are used as caper substitutes[2, 89, 142, 183]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

    The crushed fruit, mixed with Origanum syriacum, is a principal ingredient of ‘Zatar’, a popular spice mixture used in the Middle East[183].

    The seed is used as an appetizer in a similar manner to mustard[2].

  • Cautionary Notes

    The plant contains toxic substances which can cause severe irritation to some people. Both the sap and the fruit are poisonous[89, 200].

Cultivation & Habitat

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[200]. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame[200]. 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[200]. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage[78, 200]. Suckers in late autumn to winter[200].
Succeeds in a well-drained fertile soil in full sun[11, 200]. This species is not very hardy in Britain and is unlikely to succeed outdoors in any but the mildest parts of the country[11, 200]. Another report says that the plant is quite hardy and is often grown in British gardens[4]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. Unlike most members of this genus, this species is hermaphrodite[200]. The form ‘Humilior’ from Italy is smaller growing[182]. Plants have brittle branches and these can be broken off in strong winds[200]. Plants are also susceptible to coral spot fungus[11]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Many of the species in this genus, including this one, are highly toxic and can also cause severe irritation to the skin of some people, whilst other species 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[1, 4]. The toxic species are sometimes separated into their own genus, Toxicodendron, by some botanists[200].
S. Europe.

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*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.