July 26, 2013 | Smooth Sumac | Rhus glabra

For the remainder of the summer, our goal is to share with you some examples of how to use the plants in the demo garden.

Today, I am featuring Sumac.

Previous research done by a garden intern shows that there are many uses for Sumac berries, leaves and bark.  Here is a breakdown:

Plant Family: Anacardiaceae (Sumac Family)

Plant Type: Perennial

Place of Origin: United States

First Jefferson Reference: 1780s (Notes)



(Berries) Edible and can be used to make tea or lemonade; good source of vitamin C


(Leaves + Bark) When made into a decoction or syrup, is helpful in treating diarrhea, dysentery, and even gonorrhea

(Berries) Used to treat diabetes, and as a wash for ulcers

(Berries + Bark) Gargle mixture to treat sore throats

Can serve as a simple antiseptic to external wounds


(Leaves + Bark) Contain tannins, which can be used as a brown dye

I chose to test the culinary uses of the berry by making the lemonade.

First, I harvested the panicles of berries from our Sumac plants.  I read that it would take about 6 clusters of berries to make a pitcher of Sumac-ade.


As you can see, the berries are deep red and velvety.



Next, I rinsed the clusters in water to wash off any dirt or bug residue.  Then I immersed them in a pitcher of cold water.


I took a pestle and mashed up the berry clusters as best I could.  Then I left the pitcher alone for 4 hours while the berries steeped in the cold water.


Hours later, the water was a light amber color.  I strained the berries out of the water and was left with Sumac-ade!


The flavor is very mild.  I’ve had batches of Sumac-ade before that were very tart.  It would be interesting to know if the level of tart was dependent of variety of Sumac, time of year harvested, or maybe hours steeped in water. Regardless, I plan to add a little sugar and a lemon wedge to my Sumac-ade and I think it will be a very refreshing summer beverage!



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