I used to live in a house which had lots of black locust trees in the yard — along with one good-sized sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua). Although folks complained about the “gum balls” which dropped on the ground and were so prickly, the seed balls never bothered me. I discovered that, if left alone, they decomposed very nicely and quickly.
Patricia Kyritsi Howell talks about the medicinal use of sweet gum resin, bark and leaves in her book Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians. She states:
“Sweet gum resin is a valuable remedy for respiratory congestion and chest colds, though it is rarely available on the commerical herb market. Sweet gum resin and bark are effective expectorants used in cough syrups, and small lumps of resin may be chewed to treat sore throat pain.”
Ever since I read the chapter on sweet gum with all the possible medicinal uses of this plant, I’ve been on the lookout for local sweet gum trees – especially ones from which I might obtain some resin. The tree is not so plentiful here. So I was thrilled to discover that my friend who lives near the South Carolina border has lots of sweet gum trees around her. With her permission, and the permission of the relevant devas, I endeavored to dig up and transplant two small (less than one foot tall) sweet gums. I say “endeavored” because it turns out their roots are large and the trees I was attempting to transplant were saplings which sprouted from a very large root. I had to chop the root into pieces to get the two trees. Well, I transplanted them a few weeks ago and we’ll see if they sprout new leaves next spring.
When I visited my friend again yesterday, we walked (with some other wonderful people) through the woods and along a stream in an area I had not yet explored. I discovered more larger sweet gum trees. It was a bit tough to distinguish them because nearly all the leaves were off the trees at this point. However, I found an example of one lovely sweet gum growing next to the stream. Here is the top of the tree (you can just distinguish a leaf or two) . . .
I love the fall colors of the sweet gum leaves — red, purple, burgundy — and somehow I missed taking any photos of their splendid colors this year. I am so looking forward to having a sweet gum growing at Tree Haven Resource Center.