ALAINN: “BEAUTIFUL, FINE, LOVELY”. (IRISH) OLD IRISH ÁLAIND‎

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Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Sugar Bush
Rhus ovata
Anacardiaceae

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[169].

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].

Often planted in poor dry soils in America, where its extensive root system helps to prevent erosion[229].

  • Medicinal Use

    An infusion of the leaves has been used in the treatment of chest pains, coughs and colds[257]. An infusion has also been taken just before giving birth to facilitate an easy delivery[257].

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

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked[161]. Slightly acid to sweet tasting[229]. The fruit is only 6 – 8mm in diameter[229] with very little flesh, but it is produced in dense racemes 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 fruit can also be sucked for the tart juice that forms on its surface[183].

    A sweetish white sap exudes from the fruit and can be used as an acid flavouring or a sugar substitute[61, 183].

    The leaves are boiled to make a tea[183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    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 Details'.

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]. 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[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]. Succeeds in a hot dry position. Plants are usually found in poor dry soils in the wild[229]. This species is not very hardy in Britain, it may not succeed outdoors even in the mildest areas of the country[200]. One report says that it can tolerate temperatures down to about -5¡c[260]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. 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 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[1, 4]. The toxic species are sometimes separated into their own genus, Toxicodendron, by some botanists[200]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
South-western N. America – California, Arizona and Mexico.

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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.