The Staghorn Sumac Tree
Wild sumac is a shrub or small tree native to North America. Common to much of Michigan, the Great Lakes region and New England, Staghorn Sumac (rhus typhina) is easily identified by its fuzzy compound leaves and cone-shaped cluster of red berries. See our article on Staghorn sumac for more information.
Staghorn Sumac Health Benefits
Sumac is an ancient medicinal plant with antioxidant properties, and significant levels of Vitamin C. Native Americans used Sumac to treat colds, sore throats, fever, infections, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy. Sumac has also been used to treat asthma and cold sores. It also lowers blood sugar, as it has hypoglycemic properties and can aid in diabetes management. Ground berries mixed with clay created a salve used on open wounds, and Sumac berries are also used in smokers by beekeepers.
Staghorn Sumac Cautions
People who have very sensitive skin or severe allergies may have an allergic reaction to Staghorn Sumac. Other plants in this family, including mangoes and cashews, can also cause irritations and inflammation. There is a similar-looking plant that is infamous as a skin irritant called poison sumac, It will give most people the same type of rash as poison ivy. The leaves look similar but poison sumac has green or white berries that hang down in bunches not red berries that go upward in a pyramidal cluster. Another minor concern for some people is that small grubs can also take up residence inside of the berry clusters of staghorn sumac.
The Staghorn Sumac Fruit
Despite these berries having a fuzzy look and feel, the Sumac fruit cluster is technically edible. But it is only really enjoyable when prepared properly. Sumac is used to make a drink called Indian Lemonade, referring to indigenous or Native Americans. The fruit ripens and becomes a maroon color from late summer to early fall. Once ripe and ready for consumption, use berries to add flavor to pies, or steep in cold or room temperature water. Avoid hot and boiling water to prevent bringing out the tannins and developing a bitter taste.
3-6 sumac berry clusters
8-12 cups cold water
Sweetener (honey, agave nectar, sugar, stevia, etc.)
1. Place berry clusters in plastic sandwich bag and crush slightly, if you prefer.
2. Add berries to pitcher.
3. Add water to berries and soak 8-16 hours.
4. Pour liquid into large bowl through coffee filter or layered cheese cloth to remove solids(including tiny hairs and pieces of stem).
5. Rinse pitcher and add strained tea back to pitcher.
6. Add sweetener of choice to taste and stir.