Oriental Sweet Gum

A genus of four deciduous trees found through N America and Eurasia into China, often in damp woodland. They have handsome, maple-like leaves and spectacular autumn color. Species grown in cultivation are considerably smaller than wild specimens. Liquidambar styraciflua was widely used by native N Americans to heal wounds, and by settlers for skin complaints. It was first listed as an antiseptic in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia in 1926. Liquidambar orientalis appeared in Chinese medicine c. CE500. Liquidambar formosana (Chinese/Formosan sweet gum) is also important medicinally. It has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-rheumatic properties. In China the leaves and roots are used to treat malignant growths. The fruits contain beturonic acid, a substance that appears to protect the liver from damage by extremely toxic, dry-cleaning chemicals, such as carbon tetrachloride. Traditionally, the fruits are used in Taiwan for liver problems and hepatitis, while the resin is applied to carbuncles. The light yellow, almost transparent resin obtained from L. formosana contains cinnamic acid, which gives it a pleasant cinnamon-like scent.

Bushy deciduous tree with mostly 5-lobed leaves, 7-10cm (3-4in) across, which have coursely toothed margins; they turn yellow and orange in autumn. Inconspicuous flowers appear in spring, followed by small, spiny, ball-shaped fruits.

Common Name:
Oriental Sweet Gum
Other Names:
Botanical Name:
Liquidambar orientalis
Native Location:
SW Asia
Deep, rich, moist, neutral to slightly acid soil in sun or partial shade.
By seed sown in autumn; by greenwood cuttings in summer.
Balsam is collected as a natural exudate, or from cuts in the bark, and made into syrups and tinctures. It is also extracted from the bark, after beating the trees to increase flow.
30m (100ft) in the wild, 6m (20ft) in cultivation.
4-20m (12-70ft)
Parts Used:
Balsam (su he xiang)
An aromatic, stimulant herb that is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, has expectorant effects, and promotes healing.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for strokes, infantile convulsions, coma, heart disease, and pruritis. Externally, mixed with olive oil, for scabies (Leaves, fruits, and roots are also used in similar ways in folk medicine.)
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited Pg 264