Safety Note ⚠️ This article is about Rhus Typhina or Staghorn Sumac which has a toxic look-alike Toxicodendron Vernix. Staghorn Sumac is a member of the Cashew family and to the best of my knowledge it should be avoided by anyone who is allergic to Cashew nuts and probably people who are allergic to nuts in general.
I suppose that my first experience with Staghorn Sumac was due to a sore throat. I’d been told by several people about how awesome a medicinal tea made from the Sumac berries was. I had a fever and didn’t really feel like doing anything at all. However, I mustered up enough strength to ease my truck up to a sumac tree and snap off a few of the berry clusters by reaching out of the window and collecting what was at hand. Once I had a plastic bag full of cluster I put a pot of water on to boil and simmered a single cluster until I felt like it was ready. I had prepared a cup ahead of time by guessing at the right amount of honey to sweeten the concoction. I was smart enough to remember that the little bristles that coat each berry would make me gag and so I filtered the pink liquid multiple times. I was told that the tea had a very pleasant lemon flavor and that it would be like drinking hot lemonade. My first impression was somewhat disappointing to say the least. In fact it was downright awful. The lemon was overpowered by the astringency of the tannic acids in the mix. In those days there was no internet so I began to pour over the books as I poured out my failed attempt. My mouth was so puckered that I was locked into what seemed to be a permanent whistle. After double checking the resources I figured out that I had made two rookie mistakes. I had failed to remove the berries from the stem and I had been way to aggressive with my heat. After correcting those issues the second batch turned out spectacular! While I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the tea as a medicinal tea I can say that hot, pink lemonade was a great description of the flavor. In fact it was good enough to just to enjoy on a cool fall day.
Aside from an awesome tea made from the berries the leaves have an interesting history. We all know that tobacco was an important part of pre-columbian culture in North America but the tobacco plant itself was seldom used alone. It was part of a mix called “Kinnikinnick” which included a variety of leaves including Staghorn Sumac. In the Fall Staghorn Sumac leaves turn a blood red. And that was the only time that they were collected. They were mixed with the tobacco to mellow the flavor of the smoke. But there was something else. The deep red Sumac leaves are said to cause vivid dreams. I have not tried this myself so I can’t really confirm the dreams.
The flowers are actually what is pictured above. Honeybees absolutely love the Sumac flowers! The one pictured is close to my day job and there’s times when I hear the bees from across the parking lot.
I think that the last little tid-bit that I have tonight is that the branches have a very soft pith and is traditionally used to make taps for maple syrup production.
Have you ever tried Sumac? Let me know in the comments. 😊
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2 thoughts on “Forage Friday #19 Sumac”
Great article. I have been wanting to try this for a few years since I learned about it but keep missing the berry season due to travel for work. I hoping to catch it this year. Thanks.
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You also have to beat the birds to them. It takes about 10 minutes to collect a bag full if you have a productive tree.