Latin Name: Ailanthus altissima
Origin: Native to China
Known Hazards: The plant is possibly poisonous. Male flowers have potentially allergenic pollen. The leaves are toxic to domestic animals. Gardeners who fell the tree may suffer rashes. The odour of the foliage is intensely disagreeable and can cause headache and nausea, rhinitis and conjunctivitis.The pollen can cause hay fever.
Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)
Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)
Physical Characteristics: Deciduous, suckering shrub or large tree to 15 m high. Leaves alternate 20–50 (rarely to 100) cm long, with base of leaf stalk swollen (see photo). Leaves usually consist of 9–21 ovate, strongly veined, mostly opposite leaflets, 4–13 cm long, and with the terminal leaflet often smaller. Seeds surrounded by a flattened wing (see photo), green at first but becoming reddish.
Flowers: In terminal clusters mostly 6–12 cm long; male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious). Male flowers emit an offensive smell that attracts insects. Flowers summer.The plant is not self-fertile.
Distinguishing features: Distinguished by leaflet lobes with a conspicuous dark gland (see photo) that produces an unpleasant smell when crushed and clusters of winged fruits.
Leaves – cooked. Used as an emergency food in times of scarcity, they have an offensive odour. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Anthelmintic; Antibacterial; Antispasmodic; Bitter; Astringent; Cardiac; Deobstruent; Diuretic; Emetic; Emmenagogue; Febrifuge; Rubefacient. The tree of heaven is not often used in Western herbal medicine, though it is more popular in the Orient. Various parts of the plant are used, though the bark is the part most commonly used – however, it contains a glycoside that has not been fully researched and so should be used with caution. The root and stem bark are antispasmodic, astringent, bitter, cardiac depressant, diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, rubefacient and vermifuge. The vermifuge properties do not act on round worms or earthworms. A nauseatingly bitter herb, it is used internally to treat malaria and fevers, it also slows the heart rate and relaxes spasms. It needs to be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner since the bark readily causes vomiting. In China, the bark is a popular remedy for dysentery and other complaints of the bowels. In one clinical trial, 81 out of 82 patients were cured of dysentery when they were given this herb. A tincture of the root-bark has been used successfully in the treatment of cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. Tree-of-heaven is a folk remedy for asthma, cancer, diarrhoea, dysentery, dysmenorrhoea, dysuria, ejaculation (premature), epilepsy, eruption, fever, gonorrhoea, haematochezia, leucorrhoea, malaria, metrorrhagia, sores, spasms, spermatorrhoea, stomachic, tumours of the breast (China), and wet dreams. The bark is harvested in the spring and dried for later use. The leaves, bark of the trunk, and roots are put into a wash to treat parasitic ulcers, itch, and eruptions. In Korea, the root bark is used in the treatment of coughs, gastric and intestinal upsets. The stembark is emmenagogue. The leaves are anthelmintic, astringent and deobstruent. The fruit is used in the treatment of bloody stools and dysentery. They have also been used to treat ophthalmic diseases. Extracts from the plant are bactericidal. The tree is used in homeopathic remedies for cancer. A resin extracted from the roots and leaves is a revulsive or vesicant.
Dye; Hedge; Herbicide; Insecticide; Repellent; Soil reclamation; Soil stabilization; Tannin; Wood. A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves. The leaves contain 12% tannin, quercetin, as well as isoquercetin, and the alkaloid linuthine. The leaves and wood are high in cellulose and are used in paper-making. The crushed leaves and flowers are insect-repellent. The plant parts, when steeped in water, are said to yield an insecticidal solution. An aqueous extract of the leaves contains a substance that is toxic to other tree seedlings. When plants are put into marshy areas they drain the soil and thereby remove mosquito breeding sites. The plants have extensive root systems and sucker freely, they can be used in soil-stabilization programmes. Since the plant is tolerant of soil pollution it can also be used in land reclamation schemes on old mine tips etc. Plants can be grown as a tall hedge. Wood – fairly hard, heavy, difficult to split, not durable, coarse grained. Though little used, except in poorer countries, the wood is suitable for cabinetry, cellulose manufacture, furniture, lumber, pulp, and woodwork. It is difficult to split but easy to work and polish. The wood is also used locally for charcoal and firewood. Yields of 20 cubic metres per hectare is possible for this light wood.
Notes: Forms dense thickets sometimes many hectares in size. Known to be growing in Australia in mid 1800s. Was often cultivated, especially around rural buildings. Possibly toxic to stock. In China its wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture; its bark and leaves for medicine and its leaves for food for a moth which makes silk. Hardy plant, with a deep root system.