The British Cyclopaedia: Cassuvieæ, or Anacardiaceæ (osa)

The British Cyclopaedia
of the arts, sciences, history, geography, literature, natural history and biography; copiously illustrated by engravings on wood and steel by eminent artists.
Edited by Charles F. Partington, professor of mechanical philosphy, author of various works on natural and experimental philosophy, &c., assisted by authors of eminence in the various departments of science.
Complete in ten volumes.
Volume VI.
Natural history.
London: WM. S. Orr and Co., Amen Corner, Paternoster Row.

The varnishes which are yielded by several plants of this order, such as the Cashew, Semicarpus, Melanorrhaea, Usitatissima, Stagmaria verniciflora, and several species of Rhus, to be presently noticed, are very deleterious in their effects on the human body. They are highly acrid, and, when applied externally, produce inflammation and swelling to such a degree as sometimes to endanger life.


Rhus, or Sumach, is another genus of the order, containing many important species, several of which yield a milky juice possessing poisonous qualities. Rhus coriacea, elm-leaved sumach, from its astringency, is used in place of oak-bark in tanning. Leather in Turkey is chiefly tanned with this plant. The seeds are used at Aleppo to increase the appetite, and both the leaves and seeds are employed medicinally as astringents and styptics. The ancients used this plant, instead of salt, for seasoning meat. The plant grows abundantly in Spain. The bark of Rhus glabra is used as a mordant for red colours, and acts as a febrifuge. The leaves of the plant dye red, and the branches, boiled with the berries, give a black ink-like fluid. Rhus vernir, or venenata, affords the true Japan varnish. This substance oozes out from incisions made in the tree, and becomes black and thick by exposure to the air. With it the Japanese varnish the posts of their doors, their windows, and all their articles of furniture. The whole plant is acrid and poisonous. When applied to the skin, it produces inflammation, and a copious pustular eruption. Rhus pumila, and radicans, also possess poisonous qualities. Rhus toricodendron, poison-oak, is another species of this genus, found native, in North America. The juice of the plant is white, but turns black by exposure, and is used as a varnish. A volatile matter arises from the living plant, which inflames and blisters the skin. This noxious exhalation is said to take place chiefly during the night. The plant possesses both acrid and narcotic qualities. The leaves, in small doses of a quarter or half a grain, act as a powerful stimulant, and appear to exert a particular influence on the skin. They have been employed successfully in some obstinate cutaneous eruptions, in chronic rheumatism, and in palsy. They are said to excite a feeling of heat and pricking in paralysed limbs, which have sometimes been succeeded by the happiest results. It is a dangerous medicine, and always requires to be administered with the greatest caution. Rhus cotinus, Venice sumach, or wild olive, is cultivated for the purpose of tanning leather near Balcimara, in the Apennines. The wood is used by the modern Athenians for dyeing wool of a rich yellow colour. Several species of rhus are cultivated in gardens. The expressed oil of some of them acquires the consistence of suet, and serves for making candles.


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