What is Sumac and How Can You Use It?​

Sumac is a bush that produces red berries and is common around the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Yes, there is poisonous sumac and there is also the kind that is edible.

Poison sumac will be found in a wet marshy area while non-poisonous sumac (staghorn and smooth sumac being the most common), and tree of heaven live in poor soil and drier habitats. The leaves of poison sumac are compound, oval,  elongated, and smooth-edged, usually 2-4 inches long. The stems are generally red with 7-13 leaves in pairs.  Leaves are bright orange in spring, dark green in summer and red-orange in the fall.  In comparison, the leaves of non-poisonous sumac are serrated and the leaves of the tree of heaven have a noticeable notch on the lower pairs of leaves at the base.  Staghorn sumac branches are also covered with a soft fuzz like the velvet on a stag’s antlers.

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A good rule to remember is when a plant has white berries, it is usually poisonous.  “White mean’s fright, red delight!” See slide below for a description of poisonous versus edible.

  • poison sumac with berries
  • staghorn sumac

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus Hirta- Rhus Glabra), is the type we often see in the Northeast of the United States and produces a cone shaped cluster.

Where does poison sumac grow?

Poison sumac likes swampy areas, so you are less likely to see it along a beaten path unlike poison ivy or poison oak. However, ornamental and poison sumac can live side-by-side so stay alert.

Should you harvest the safe types of sumac?

Yes. August is the perfect time to harvest NON-poisonous sumac and use its berries to make a refreshing, tangy sumac lemonade.

The delightful red berries are full of vitamins A, C, and antioxidants making it a wild nutritious alternative to your everyday drinks.

Perfect harvest comes when the berries turn red. Try not to collect right after a rainstorm as it can dilute the flavor.

With a pair of heavy duty scissors, clip 12-15 berry clusters from the stem. Your hands may become sticky so wear a pair of gloves and gently place the clipped cones into a basket. Bring them back home and use.

You can also dry and grind sumac to make a spice which is used much like salt and pepper. It adds just a little flavor enhancing the taste of your dish.

Want to know how?

How to use sumac
#HeatherEarles #sumac #sumaclemonade #berries #healthydrinks #herbnwisdom #naturalliving

Making Sumac-ade

  1. Collect your clusters and then place the amount you want in a large pot with a cover.
  2. You should have about 1 cup of water for each cone.
  3. Once your cones and water are in the pot, put a plate or heavy object on top, so the sumac stays submerged.
  4. Let them sit overnight or for a short 8-hour period. The longer you leave the sumac to soak, the more pungent or sour your sumac-ade will taste — sort of like kombucha.
  5. When your cones have sat for the desired length of time, strain the ade by choosing a cheesecloth and rest it in a pitcher. You do not want the hairy portion from the plant in your refreshing drink.
  6. Remove the cheesecloth and discard the unwanted contents.
  7. Finish by sweetening your newly prepared sumac with honey, stevia, organic sugar, or your preferred sweetener.
  8. Refrigerate and serve as you would lemonade.

Making A Spice

To make a spice that tastes a little like lemon pepper mix 1/3 pepper to 2/3 sumac. Use this on chicken, zucchini and other grilled veggies.

The mixture might clump a little but don’t worry about it, just shake in your shaker or spread evening across your veggies or meat.

Now that you have a good idea of what sumac is and different ways you can use it, let me explain the main reason I wanted to write this post.

A lot of people on social media have asked why I chose the Sumac as my header image. The answer is simple.

There is a quiet place I like to go that is close to my house. This place has staghorn sumac and when the deep red berries are in full bloom it reminds me of several things. “Go Red or Go Home,” peace, family, and that we are to treat nature and our surroundings with respect. It reminds me why I write on my blog each week; to share the knowledge that will help people in their journey of health. Lastly, it keeps me grounded so I always remember where I came from.

To that end, I wish you and your families the best health possible. Have a blessed week!

Heather Earles

A special Note about wild and or poisonous plants:

“Leaves of three, let it be!” A berry plant, like blackberry or raspberry, also has three leaves, however, the thorny stems are a dead giveaway that it is not poisonous. 

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Do not eat anything you find in the wild unless you can identify it and know how to harvest it.


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