Ever since the days of the Aztec Empire, the sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) has been of great use. It grows fast for a rapid harvest, yielding lumber and veneer for furniture-making. Its resin, for which the genus is named, is valuable in incense production and for various medicinal purposes. Homeowners grow sweet gum as a decorative shade tree, and, when it's time to remove them from the property, find the wood chips useful too.
Like most woods, sweet gum chips may be used as mulch in flower beds and around the base of trees. However, you shouldn't use fresh sweet gum wood for this purpose. It'll leach nitrogen out of your soil and your plants in the process of breaking down. So before using your chipped-up sweet gum for mulch, mix it up with grass clippings and compost it for at least six weeks.
Another way to neutralize your nitrogen-sapping wood chip mulch is to grow edible mushrooms with it. Not only does this give the chips another source of nitrogen other than your garden plants, but it also potentially adds another type of fruit to your garden's yield. And sweet gum is on the list of wood ideal for mushroom cultivation. Simply soak the wood chips well, mix them with your favorite type of mushroom spore, and place them in an outdoor location subject to filtered light or shade.
The sap of the sweet gum can be processed into a necessary ingredient for incense-making. But you don't have to commit to the lengthy process of boiling sap down into balsam in order to enjoy the sweet gum smell. Simply incorporate fresh sweet gum wood chips into your favorite potpourri mix. Or, next time you're enjoying a warm, crackling fire, toss a handful of wood chips into the flames for a pleasant smoke scent. But don't do this in your barbecue pit. It's not safe to eat foods cooked over smoke from sweet gum.
You may not have access to an industrial paper mill, but if you convert your sweet gum wood chips into pulp, you can easily make stationery or handmade books right in your own home. Experiment by adding flowering grasses, shreds of newspaper and fiber from yarn or cloth in order to make your sweet gum paper creations even more special.
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