Fragrant sumac is nothing like poisonous sumac, besides poisonous sumac looks nothing like fragrant sumac. Smooth, Staghorn, and Fragrant sumac are three of the most common species of Rhus, which not only resembled each other, but were used similarly. The sumacs are members of the Anacardiaceae/Cashew family, like cashews, mangos, and a few common poisonous species. Although they are close cousins of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, they have notably different appearances. All of these poisonous relatives have white or yellowish berries. Remember that all edible sumac berries are red and you will never have a problem identifying them. However, anyone with known allergies to any member of the Cashew Family should avoid sumac.
These edible plants are also known as smooth upland sumac, scarlet sumac, dwarf sumac, lemonade tree, vinegar tree, shining sumac, mountain sumac, hairy sumac, velvet sumac, Virginian sumac, and winged sumac. The most eaten parts of sumac plants are the ripe red berries. These acidic and tart berries can be eaten raw or dried, though they’re most popularly used in the form of a berry tea or sumac-ade. Sumac-ade is best when sweetened with maple sugar and can be served hot or cold.
How to make sumac-ade:
- Pick the sumac around August in order to make sure it is ripe. Ripe sumac has a dark velvet color. Also ensure that you don’t pick the Sumac cones immediately after rain since it tends to wash away the flavor.
- With your hands, remove the small Sumac berries from the stems and place them in a container filled with fresh cold water. You’d want about 1 cup of water for each cone.
- Crush the berries with your hands for a couple of minutes, or you could alternatively put the mixture into a blender and let it blend away.
- Let rest for about 30-60 minutes depending on how strong of a flavor you want.
- Strain using a cheesecloth, and sweeten to your liking. Serve cold or hot.
- Do not boil the Sumac cones, as that can produce a bitter taste. However and alternatively, soaking the Sumac cones in hot water can yield to a nice healthy tea.
Sumac leaves and berries are classified as astringent and cooling. Certain Native American and Canadian Indian tribes used sumac to treat bladder, digestive, reproductive, and respiratory ailments; infections; injuries; stomachaches; arrow wounds; and more. The Chippewa Indians of North America made a decoction of sumac flowers to treat gas, indigestion, and other digestive upsets. The Iroquois used sumac as a laxative, diuretic, expectorant, liver aid, and in countless other applications. The powdered bark and dried berries were allegedly combined with tobacco and smoked during peace pipe ceremonies. The inner bark was also used to treat hemorrhoids.
The Pioneers used the berries to calm fevers and they steeped and strained the berries and and added honey to stop a mild cough. They also turned them into wine! Others used the root to produce an emetic tea to induce vomiting. The bark was used as a dye for rags, paint and more. The leaves are the first to change in the fall, the color is red.