Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Identification: A tree that grows up to 125 feet.
Leaves: Alternate “maple-like” star shaped leaves; 5- to 7- lobed, 4 to 8 inches long and wide; margins serrate; dark to medium glossy green; pine-scented when rubbed or crushed.
Bark: Grayish brown; deeply furrowed with narrow ridges; stem bark is reddish or yellowish brown and shiny. Some trees develop interesting corky ridges on 2 year old stems.
Fruit: Spherical (to 1-1/2 inches), with projecting points.
Family: Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel Family)
Habitat: Moist woods, bottomland, and along waterways. Often invasive in old fields or after logging. Southeastern Connecticut to Florida, Mexico, Central America, and Texas; Missouri to Illinois.
Parts Used: Inner bark and gum.
Medicinal Properties: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, expectorant, vulnerary.
Uses: Gum or balsam (resin) was traditionally chewed for sore thoats, coughs, colds, diarrhea, dysentery, and ringworm; used externally for sores, skin ailments, wounds, and piles. The resin is a commercial preparation based on Styrax benzoin that is used to treat colds and skin problems. Children sometimes chew the gum in lieu of commercial chewing gum. The mildly astingent inner bark was used as a folk remedy, boiled in milk for diarrhea and cholera infantum.
Preparations and Dosages: Tincture [1:5, 95% alcohol], 10 to 30 drops as needed. Strong Decoction of Bark is serviceable as well.