What did you think when you saw the title? Sumac Berries…..hmmmm…. aren’t they poisonous, like poison sumac????
Well that is what I thought up until a couple years ago. Edible sumac red berries are from the Sumac bush(Rhus spp.) whereas Poison Sumac(Toxicodendron vernix) has white berries. NEVER eat them!!! Around this time the Staghorn or Smooth Sumac bush has whitish berries that turn deep, deep red almost velvetly red. The berry clusters appear like flames from the green bushes, just beautiful! Some varieties are ready to harvest now and others during August and September.
The berries aren’t exactly tasty raw, quite tart and more seed than fruit but they make a truly amazing and delicious drink, called Sumac-ade. Not only are they edible, sumac berries are medicinal. Sumac is astringent and cooling. Here is an excerpt from Mother Earth Living that I found interesting –
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.
Early pioneers used the berries to reduce fevers, and they steeped and strained the berries and thickened the mixture with honey to yield a soothing cough syrup. Some transformed the berries into wine. Others used the root to produce an emetic tea (to induce vomiting), the bark to make dye, and the leaves to relieve symptoms of asthma.
Sumac berries contain malic acid, which possess antifungal properties and putative anti-fibromyalgic activity; tannic acid, which is present in tea and wine and is known for its astringent activity; and gallic acid, a white crystalline compound used in dyes, in photography, and in ink and paper manufacture.
Cool stuff huh?
In addition, middle eastern folks use the dried berries in a seasoning called Zatar which is usually mixed with yogurt or cream cheese.
Want to know how I made Sumac-ade? Here ya go! Oh and of course I am going to try Sumac Jelly this week!!!
3 Quart – 1 Gallon wide mouth container
2-3 Sumac Drupes(the cluster you cut off the bush) See Pic
1- 1 1/2 cups sugar(I am sure honey can be subbed in)
Cut or break of the smaller sections off the big stem and put into your jar. Don’t work about removing each individual berries cause it would take forever and your hands would be red. 😀
Fill with cold water about 3/4th full. Put outside in the sun for around 4 hours OR set it inside overnight. You will see it turn a pretty golden color.
Using a piece of cheesecloth or a very fine strainer, strain the liquid into another container. I squeeze the berries a bit while straining. Now warm up 1-2 cups water in a measuring cup or bowl, add the sugar depending on how sweet you want your drink and add that sweetened water to your Sumac-ade. Chill and drink up for good health and good taste!!!