Sweet Gum Tree Leaf
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Spotlight: The Surprising Uses Of The Sweetgum Tree. Part 1

A tree by any other name… 

Let me introduce you to the Sweetgum Tree.

Never heard of it? Perhaps you know it by another name.

Some of my favorites are:

  • American storax
  • Hazel pine
  • Redgum
  • Satin-walnut
  • Alligatorwood.  

I’ll confess, I really like that last one.

Why don’t we all call it alligator-wood? If you look at the bark right, it does look a little reptilian.

I know, alligator-wood isn’t as appetizing sounding as Sweetgum.

 Sweetgum could be a brand of chewing gum and we’d all buy it. I can see the caption “Sugar Free, Great Tasting, Mouth Healing Sweet Gum.”  

Mouth Healing?

Oh Yes, mouth healing. 

Liquidambar Styraciflua

Sciency peeps call our North American native Sweetgum, Liquidambar Styraciflua.

Fun to say ten times fast, but it’s a bit of a mouthful.

It means liquid amber, and flowing with styrax or gum. This is a reference to the sap or resin of the Sweetgum tree.

There are three additional varieties of Sweetgum trees, all of which are native to Asia.

This post will focus on the North American variety. However, the many properties and uses are common among all the Sweet Gum trees world wide. 

Time for a little history

Historical medicinal uses. 

 Disclaimer: 

I wrote “historical medicinal uses.” I am not a doctor or a certified herbal healer so I cannot endorse the use of sweetgum medicines in homeopathic healing. This post, like all my posts, are for entertainment and some “oh that’s interesting” moments only.  

The Sweetgum trees were widely used by Native American peoples, pilgrims, and Civil War soldiers.

It was used to clean ones teeth by chewing the resin. Chewing the resin also treated gum disease and lesions.

See, healing chewing gum! We need more of this!

Insect bites and abrasions? No problem, just turn the Sweetgum resin into a salve.

Have colic, or diarrhea?  Maybe a chest cold and need an expectorant? Sweetgum has got you covered.

A tincture made from the green Sweetgum balls or burrs has its own unique properties, and was used to treat a variety of ailments. 

It’s just your basic cold and flu home remedy. 

As you can see from these few examples the Sweetgum appears as versatile as the diseases we experience. 

But That’s Not All. 

Side note:

The liquidambar orientalis, native to southeast asia, is also known as the “balm of gilead” and was important in many middle eastern medicines. 

Now back to the regularly programmed material

The Sweetgum, much like frankincense, is known for it’s aromatic incense.

Incense which also has been attributed with medicinal properties. 

Like treating lung ailments. Believing the smoke could excite the mucous membranes of the lungs. 

Additionally it was used with tobacco and smoked as a sedative. 

And of course, the Sweetgum incense was used in religious ceremonies, but more on that later.

The sap from Sweetgum was so popular that it was part of an active trade during the time of the Aztecs.

Nothing like a medicinal free market system.    

More Than Just Snake Oil

Modern medicine has found compelling evidence as to why the resin, bark, leaves, and seed pods, were used to treat a variety of injuries and ailments.

The Sweetgum tree has antimicrobial, antiviral, and anticonvulsant properties, among many others. 

Interesting to note that it possesses compounds such as shikimic acid, which is a forerunner to the use of oseltamivir phosphate, an active ingredient in Tamiflu

Like I said before, it’s basically a cold and flu home remedy. 

Now you know.

 It’s always amazing when we learn about these medicinal trees. Often we look at them with a healthy dose of skepticism until the science starts to back up the historical uses.

Which is always cool. 

Now we know why wherever a Sweetgum has grown it has been used to heal, both physically and spiritually. 

More to come.

Next week we’ll look at the ceremonial, religious, and mystical, or spiritual, uses of the Sweetgum tree.

Comment below if you’ve had any experience with or thoughts about the Sweetgum tree. 

References

Yale Nature Walk- American Sweet Gum
ArborDay.org
Sweetgum: An ancient source of beneficial compounds with modern benefits
Witch Balls
Sweet Gum Tincture
Gardens and Park at Fulham Palace

Economic Botany & Cultural History: Sweetgum

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About Author

Jenn Gaskin

After more than a decade in education I decided to turn my copious skills to writing. I have been freelance writing for Dancing Tree Gifts (formerly Sonora Kay Creations) since 2019. I wear many hats with DTG primarily copy editor, author, and web design.

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