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Sweet Gum


Scientific Names Sweet Gum

Liquidambar styraciflua L.


Witch-hazel family


Common Names


Gum tree


Liquid storax

Opossum tree

Red gum

Star-leaved gum


White gum


Parts Usually Used

Balsam, bark

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Sweet gum is a deciduous, forest-dwelling tree, growing as high as 150 feet, the tree is covered with rough, gray bark; but the branchlets are reddish-brown and often have corky ridges. When cut, it exudes a sticky, resinous gum or balsam. Its alternate, serrate, palmately lobed (star-shaped with 5-7 toothed lobes) leaves are dark green and shiny above and pale green underneath; in fall they turn a deep crimson. Leaves have an aromatic pine-like scent when crushed. The petalless flowers occur in globular heads, the male heads clustered in terminal racemes and the female growing individually on long peduncles. The fruit consists of woody capsules growing in round, spiny heads an inch or more across which stay on the tree through the winter. They are spiky brown hanging balls.

Medicinal Properties

Antiseptic, astringent, expectorant

Biochemical Information

Malic and acid calcium malate with tannic and gallic acids, fixed and a small amount of volatile oils

Legends, Myths and Stories

The “gum” is produced in pockets in the bark. Children sometimes chew the gum in lieu of commercial chewing gum.


The balsam is used effectively externally for wounds and for skin problems. For external use it is usually made into an ointment with lard or oil. Native Americans used a decoction of leaves or roots as a wash to treat injuries. For coughs and respiratory congestion due to colds, the gum can be taken for expectoration or for sore throat. The bark has been used to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. Used to treat ringworm.


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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are intended to support general well being and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure any condition or disease.