How we got started making Sumac-ade is a funny story. It was just a couple weeks ago, my husband and I were out on our homestead (fancy name for a yard with a garden + chickens) looking for elderberries on the woods edge. We came upon some sumac and both talked about it being poisonous as we walked by. The next day, my friend Lurea & her son, Anegus, came over (Anegus is the cutie who taught me How to pack a kid-approved healthy lunch) and brought me a bunch of goodies, including some fresh Sumac! Yes the very same sumac my husband and I were talking about being ‘poisonous’ the very evening before. Lurea is the kind of friend I only though happened in my dreams. She’s not only totally fun to be around, she’s also wicked-smart! Growing up, Lurea’s mom taught her about foraging wild edibles and now she’s teaching me! I don’t know where the ‘rumor’ started that the sumac (with red/magenta fuzzy berries) that grows in our area is poisonous, but it’s totally false! True poisonous sumac doesn’t grown in our area (Pennsylvania) and it has distinct white berries – check out the comparison (below) they look totally different, huh? It’s a no brainer! CAUTION: Sumac is related to cashews, mangoes, and poison ivy. If you’re you’re so sensitive to poison ivy that you can’t eat cashews or mangoes, you should avoid sumac too. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina, the kind that we have growing in our yard) is a deciduous shrub characterized by long, alternate leaves, yellow-green flowers and hairy, reddish fruits. Although considered a weed by many due to its aggressive growth tendencies, the shrub provides valuable forage for wildlife and has a long history of human use in North America.
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.
The sumac plant typically belongs to sub-tropical and temperate region. It grows in Mediterranian countries, North Africa, South Europe, Afghanistan and Iran. It is a popular condiment used as souring agent. This reddish purple sumac spice power is very common in Middle Eastern and Arabic cooking. Sumac adds a tangy lemony taste to food. It is used to marinate meat, garnish hummus, salad. In Iran, sumac is added to rice or kebab. The popular spice mixture za’atar contains sumac.
Varieties that grow in North America are Smooth Sumac and Staghorn Sumac, are most commonly used to make tangy cool drink known as sumac-ade or Indian lemonade or rhus juice. Sumacade is made by soaking sumac berries (drupes) in cool water, straining the liquid and adding sweetener, it’s a taste similar to lemonade or lightly sweetened tropical punch/cherry koolaid.
Everyone we’ve had try it agrees that it’s a yummy summer treat, that’s chock-full of healthy vitamin c!
Sumac berry clusters are ready to be picked in late summer (august) when they are deep reddish/burgundy color. It’s best to harvest them after an few dry days, the sumac flavor will be diluted following a rain so you don’t want to pick wet sumac.
Pinch off a tiny berry and taste the amazing tart flavor, I think it tastes like a mix of red raspberries & lemon. The berry clusters will break off easily or you can use clippers to cut them off.
Don’t forget to save some fresh sumac for winter. Simply store your fresh sumac berry clusters in an open brown paper bag in a cool/dark place in your house (we keep ours in a closet) they will naturally dry. You can then use the whole, dried berry clusters to make sumacade later or grind them into a powder to use as a seasoning.
Sumacade; a Natural Alternative to Kool-aid
- Place sumac berries in cool/room temperature water - I recommend 1 large berry cluster per 2 cups of water at a minimum. The more sumac you use the less time it will take to create flavorful sumac-ade
- Crush or break apart the berry clusters in the water
- Allow to soak for a few hours to a few days, depending on how much sumac you used and how strong you'd like your sumacade
- Strain your extract through cheesecloth or similar fine mesh fabric
- Sweeten to taste
- Serve over ice for a refreshing beverage!
Also, sumac has anti microbial properties. A study published in International Journal of Food Microbiology suggested sumac’s antimicrobial activity that can combat Salmonella bacteria. Water mixed with sumac extract can be used to treating vegetables and fruits and get rid of bacteria on them. Anti microbial properties of sumac were attributed to presence of methyl gallic acid, gallic acid and other compounds in a study published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Have you ever had Sumac-ade? Are you going to try some yourself?