Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula, Boulder, CO
Instructor: Jane Bunin, PhD
December 19, 2008
Smooth Sumac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rhus Glabra L. is one of the most common sumacs. It is an attractive ornamental plant and is cultivated by many for its beauty. The scientific name Rhus Glabra comes from Greek and rhus is derived from "rhous" which means bushy sumac, glabra means smooth and refers to the stem and leaves of the plant (Kindscher, 1987).
How the Plant was chosen
In order to choose an appropriate plant for this project, it is important to find out if the plant has previously been described ayurvedically.
First I looked up the plant in Yoga of Herbs by Dr. Vasant Lad and David Frawley (1988). They mention Sumach but only briefly in their tables.
Then I looked in the online source for The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India and found Tintidika, which is a different species of Sumac.
I also found Rhus glabra in Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra and David Frawley (1988), which led to a bit of discussion whether or not the plant was described ayurvedically. The conclusion was that the information provided was not sufficient as an ayurvedic description. Thus, I was granted permission to focus on Rhus glabra L.
Botany and Ecology
Family: Anacardiaceae / Cashew or Sumac
Species: glabra L.
Smooth Sumac, smooth upland sumac, sumach, sumac, dwarf sumac, scarlet sumac, red sumac, lemonade berry, vinegar-bush, vinegar-tree.
For information on Native American names of Rhus glabra L. refer to Kindscher (1987, 1992).
Rhus glabra L. is a large shrub or sometimes a small tree with open, flattened crown of a few stout, spreading branches and with whitish sap. The height can vary from 2-20 ft.
Rhus glabra below North Fork Mountain, West Virginia, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The leaves are alternate, stalked, odd-pinnately compound with slender axis, 12 - 20 inches long (30 - 50 cm), with 11-31 lance-shaped to elliptic leaflets, which are 2 - 4 inches (5-10 cm) long and ¾ to 1¼ inches wide. The upper surfaces of the leaflets are dark green and shiny/glossy, the lower surfaces dull and whitish; they are hairless, almost stalkless, and have toothed serrated margins and pointed tips.
The leaves turn bright red in the autumn.
The bark is light brown and smooth on young plants, on older wood it is smooth or becoming scaly and grey to brown.
The stem is erect, rigid, very stout, hairless, angular, smooth, has raised air pores, and covered with a whitish coat that can be wiped off. It is reddish purple when young, grayish when mature.
RhusMALEdot196 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Staminate, pistillate, and bisexual.
The small, numerous flowers occur in large branched clusters at the ends of the branches; they are less than 1/8 inches (3 mm) wide, crowded in large upright clusters to 8 inches (20 cm) long.
The staminate flowers are small and yellowish green; they have 5-parted calyces, 5 whitish petals, distinct, and ovate with 5 stamens, which have yellow anthers.
The pistillate flowers are similar, in smaller clusters, more densely flowered; and have yellowish stigmas.
The buds are small, covered with brown hair.The inflorescences are panicles, dense, pyramid-shaped, 4 to 10
inches long, and terminal.
The fruits of Rhus glabra L. are crowded in upright clusters of red drupes 4 to 6 inches tall. Each drupe (a fleshy fruit with a hard or stony center) is about 1/8 inches (3 mm) in diameter, round, contains a single smooth seed, numerous, dark red, and covered with short sticky red hairs
Habitat(s), ecosystem(s) and geographic range where found
Rhus glabra L. is found in open uplands including edges of forests, grasslands, clearings, roadsides, and waste places, especially in sandy soils (eNature.com). It also grows at pastures, along railroads, and is cultivated in private settings (Kindscher, 1992).
It grows in colonies that result from stems sprouting from roots (Missouri Department of Conservation).
Rhus glabra L. is native to North America; it is the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous states (eNature.com). In addition, it stretches from southern Quebec west to southern British Columbia in Canada, and to Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico.
Phenology (time of growth, flowering and fruiting)
The flowering period is in the spring (from May to June). The male and female are usually on separate plants.
Fruits mature in late summer (from August through September) and remain attached in winter.
Ecologic Status (widespread, uncommon, weed)
According to Elpel (2008) there are 60 different species of the Rhus genus in the world out of which there are two species in Colorado.
Poison Oak, poison Ivy and poison Sumac used to be included in the Rhus genus, however, nowadays they are separated into their own Toxicodendron genus (Elpel, 2008).
Poison ivy fruits are yellowish white and clustered.
Poison ivy flowers are small and scentless.
Raspberry And Poison Ivy Leaves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Trees that might be confused with Rhus glabra:
Tree of heaven - Ailanthus altissima. It is a common 'weed tree' in urban areas but can also invade disturbed forest areas.
Ailanthus altissima (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
California Black Walnut Latina: Juglans californica Made in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rhus copallina, Cambridge University Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rhus typhina (syn. R. hirta) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Tintidika, a different species of Rhus, is described in The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India.
Flowers in spring from May to June. Leaves when turning red in the autumn. Berries when ripe in autumn. Bark and roots may also be gathered.
- Tea from berries, leaves and roots.
- Bark syrup
- Root bark poultice
- Leaves dried and smoked
(Source: Foster & Hobbs).
According to Foster & Hobbs (2002),
I. The berries are used as tea in traditional European folk medicine to treat:
- Postpartum bleeding
- Bloody discharge
- Urinary tract problems
- Gargled for ulcerations of mouth and throat
- Externally to wash ringworm lesions and slow healing ulcers
II. Leaf tea used for:
- Urinary tract disorders
III. Root tea used:
- Externally as a postpartum wash for bleeding
- Internally to relieve painful urination, urinary retention, colds, dysentery, suppressed appetite, and as an emetic.
IV. Bark syrup used to:
- Stimulate lactation
- Stop bleeding
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Swollen lymph nodes
V. Root bark poultice used externally on old ulcers.
VI. Leaves smoked with tobacco for head and lung problems.
According to Hartley, Rhus glabra is also used in gargles as an antiseptic, refrigerant and diuretic. A strong decoction or diluted fluid extract, affords an agreeable gargle for angina.
In the homeopathic system of medicine Rhus glabra is used in occipital headache, ulceration of mouth, stomatitis, epistaxic and profuse perspiration (Boericke, 1984).
Additional information: Kindscher, 1987, 1992.
Leaves and bark contain gallic and tannic acid (Elpel, 2008).
In an antibiotic screening of British Colombian medicinal plants, it was found that Rhus glabra was more effective in its crude methanolic extracts than the other 100 plants screened. The extract showed both the widest zones of inhibition in a disc assay, and the broadest spectrum of activity (McCutcheon et al. 1992). The chloroform/methanol extract was fractionated and revealed three antimicrobial compounds; gallic acid and two of its methylated derivatives, 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid and 4-methoxy-3,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid (Saxena et al., 1994). Only gallic acid has been isolated from Rhus glabra in the past (Doorenbos, 1976). These compounds showed better activity against the gram-negative bacteria than the gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. While this study explains the traditional uses of Rhus glabra by native peoples, it is unlikely to lead to new antibacterial drugs (Hartley).
Raw young sprouts were eaten by the Indians as salad. The sour fruit, mostly seed, can be chewed to quench thirst or prepared as a drink similar to lemonade. It is also consumed by birds of many kinds and small mammals, mainly in winter. Deer browse the twigs and fruit throughout the year (eNature.com).
The berries can be infused into cold water to make a good lemonade-type drink (Elpel, 2008)
Sumac thickets provide shelter for wildlife. Native Americans used the drupes medicinally to treat sunburn and sores and to make red and black dyes; the roots to make a yellow dye; and sometimes smoked the dried red leaves. Deer and sheep sometimes consume the leaves (Kansas Wildflower & Grasses).
Additional information: Kindscher, 1987, 1992.
Potentially toxic in large or concentrated doses (Foster & Hobbs).
V+ P- K-
Rasa: Kasaya (astringent), Amla (sour)
Virya: Shita (cooling)
Vipaka: Amla (sour), Katu (pungent)
Prabhava: Madhura (sweet)
Guna: Ruksha (dry), Shita (cold), Laghu (light), Guru (heavy) (Lad, 1997, p. 248)
Mahabhuta: Vayu (air), Prthvi (earth) (Lad, 1997, p. 248), and Tejo (fire) (Lad, 1997, 244)
Alterative (blood cleansing) Rakta shodhana
Anti-diarrhea (stops diarrhea) Brmhaniya
Anti-diuretic (increases absorption of fluids) Mutrasangrahania
Anti-pyretic (stops sweating) Jwarahara
Appetizer (increases appetite) Sugandhi tadravya
Carminative (promotes digestion, relieves intestinal gas) Dipaniya
Galactogogue (increases breast milk) Stanyajanana
Hemostatic (stops bleeding) Sonitasthapana
Refrigerant (cools and reduces fever) Dahaprasamana
Scraping (fat reducing) Lekhaniya
Stimulant (strengthens metabolism and circulation) Dipana
Vulnerary (closes wounds and promotes healing) Sandhaniya
~ Sources: (Lad & Frawley, 1986), (Sharma, 1995), (Lad, 1997), (Tirtha, 1998)
Kidney, bladder, and liver (Tierra & Frawley). Colon and lungs (Lad, 1997, p. 242)
Rasa, Rakta, Artava
Prana vaha srotas, Anna vaha srotas, Ambu vaha srotas, Rasa vaha srotas, Rakta vaha srotas, Purisha vaha srotas, Mutra vaha srotas, Sveda vaha srotas, Artava vaha srotas, and Stanya vaha srotas
Estimation of Ayurvedic use
Cooling herbs create a sense of refreshment, a lifting of feelings of oppression. They promote detoxification and clarity. They tend to clear Pitta and the blood but can also increase vata and kapha. When taken in excess, cooling substances produce an undesirable coldness, hypoenervation, frailty, sadness, nervousness, poor memory and gradual degeneration (Tierra & Frawley).
According to Sharma (1995), the general systemic action of kashaya (astringent taste) is healing, absorbing, anti-diuretic, and normalizing skin pigmentation. Furthermore, it acts on diarrhea, hemorrhage, wounds, polyuria, and respiratory disorders.
Astringent taste is sedative, stops diarrhea, aids in healing of joints, and promotes absorption of bodily fluids, and the closing and healing of sores and wounds (Lad & Frawley, 1986).
Astringent causes shrinkage of mucous membranes or exposed tissues. It may be applied internally to check discharge of blood serum or mucous secretions caused by sore throat or diarrhea, or applied externally on cuts, allergies, fungal infection, scars or insect bites. Astringent also helps to heal stretch marks and other scars (Mother Herbs & Agro Products).
Psychologically, astringent taste is supportive and grounding, it brings things together and makes the mind collected and organized, putting everything in its right place (Lad, 1997, p. 249).
Sour taste improves the taste of food, enkindles the digestive fire, add bulk to the body, invigorates, awakens the mind, gives firmness to the senses, increases strength, dispels intestinal gas and flatus, gives contentment to the heart, promotes salivation, aids swallowing, moistening and digestion of food, gives nourishment (Lad & Frawley, 1986).
Sour taste brings comprehension, appreciation, recognition and discrimination. It makes the mind alert, sharp and enhances the span of attention (Lad, 1997, p. 245).
The taste of kashaya (astringent) is contraindicated in disorders such as vata provocation, general debility, and loss of appetite (Sharma).
Constipation, vata provocation, blood clots (Lad, 1997).
Bioimages Home. Rhus Glabra. (pictures). Retrieved on December 14, 2008, from
Bioimages Home. Identifying Invasive Plants. (Detailed photos to distinguish Smooth Sumac from
similar plants). Retrieved on December 14, 2008, from
Boericke, W. 1984. Pocket manual of Homeopathic materia medica. Pratap Medical Publishers,
New Delhi, India. 9th ed.
CAT.INIST. Antimicrobial constituents of Rhus glabra. 1994, vol. 42, no2, pp. 95-99 (13 ref.).
Retrieved on December 10, 2008, from
Central Council for research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS). The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of
India. Tintidikida, Vol. V (p. 205). Retrieved on November 9, 2008, from
Doorenbos, N. J. 1976. Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences 21:53
Elpel, T.J. 2008. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Hops Press, MT. (p.
eNature.com. 2007. Smooth Sumac Rhus glabra. Retrieved on December 10, 2008, from
Foster S. & Hobbs C. 2002. Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Company, NY
Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Taxonomy for Plants. Rhus glabra L.
Retrieved on December 10, 2008, from
Hartley, L. Secondary Compounds Within the Anacardiaceae. Colorado State University. Retrieved
on December 13, 2008, from
Kansas Wildflower & Grasses. 2007. Smooth Sumac. Retrieved on December 14, 2008, from
Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie. University Press of Kansas (pp. 190-194).
Kindscher, K. 1992. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. University Press of Kansas (pp. 182-188).
Lad, V. Dr. 2007. Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles. The Ayurvedic Press, NM.
Lad, V. Dr. & Frawley, D. 1986. Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press (pp. 34, 53, 216).
McCutcheon, A. R., Ellis, S. M., Hancock, R. E. W., Towers, G. H. N. 1992. Journal of
Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC.online). Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra L.). Retrieved on
December 14, 2008, from http://mdc.mo.gov/nathis/exotic/vegman/twentyfo.htm
Mother Herbs & Agro Products. Astringent. Retrieved on December 14, 2008, from
Saxena, G., McCutcheon, A. R., Farmer, S., Towers, G. H. N., Hancock, R. E. W. 1994. Journal of
Sharma, P.V. 1995. Introduction to Dravyaguna. Chakhambha Orientalia. 3rd edition (pp. 34-35).
Tierra, M. & Frawley, D. 1988. Planetary Herbology: An Integration of Western
Herbs Into the Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Systems. Lotus Press (p. 340).
Tirtha, S.1998. The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia. Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press.
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