Leather Wood (Dirca palustris)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Leather Wood
Dirca palustris

The tough flexible shoots are used in basket making and as a tying material[1, 11, 43, 46, 95].

A rope can be made from the bark fibres[1, 11, 46, 61]. The bark fibres are also used in making paper[189]. The stems are harvested in summer, the leaves are removed and the stems steamed until the fibres can be stripped. The outer and inner barks are separated by scraping or peeling. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours or less with soda ash and then beaten with mallets or put through a blender. The paper is greenish cream in colour[189].

A compound infusion of the roots has been used as a wash to strengthen the hair and make it grow[257].

  • Medicinal Use

    Leatherwood was employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide variety of ailments[257]. It is little used in modern herbalism and any use should be carried out with caution since even minute doses can cause salivation and burning of the tongue[222].

    A tea made from the bark is laxative[222]. Another report says that it is purgative and emetic, and can produce violent vomiting[235, 257].

    An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of pulmonary problems[257].

    A decoction of the branches has been applied as a poultice to swellings on the limbs[257].

    The plant is a folk remedy for toothaches, facial neuralgia and paralysis of the tongue, venereal disease, and has also been used to try and induce pregnancy[222, 257].

  • Edible Use

    None known

  • Cautionary Notes

    Contact with the plant can cause severe dermatitis with redness, blistering and sores in some people[222].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[113]. Remove the fruit flesh since this can inhibit germination[113]. Dried seed will require 2 – 3 months cold stratification[113]. The seed usually germinates in 1 – 6 months at 15¡c[175]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Layering.
Thrives in a moist peaty soil[1, 11] and a sheltered position[175]. Prefers a reasonably moist humus-rich limy soil according to another report[182]. The flowers are produced in early spring and they are often damaged by frost[1, 200]. They have a soft sweet perfume[245]. The species D. occidentalis A.Gray. is very closely related to this plant[200], so it might have the same uses[K].
Eastern N. America – New Brunswick to Florida, west to Louisiana and Minnesota.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*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.