“Hey Mike! What is that? Is it edible?” Students frequently ask these questions during classes when they see the red berry clusters (aka “bob”) of staghorn sumac Rhus typhina.
My response is always, "Yes, in fact, you can make a delicious lemonade rich in antioxidants and vitamins B and C from its berries."
Is Sumac poisonous?
To eliminate any confusion, the difference between poisonous and nonpoisonous sumac can easily be identified by the following characteristics: the red berries of staghorn sumac point up, and berries of poison sumac Toxicodendron Vernix droop downwards Also, they are green turning white. Twigs and berries of staghorn sumac are hairy, whereas poison sumacs are smooth. The actual leaves of staghorn sumac are serrated, while the poison sumac leaves are smooth, without any hair. Now that we know what staghorn sumacs are, let's look at how to harvest it and turn it into delicious lemonade!
How to make delicious lemonade.
(Caution : If allergic to cashews or mangoes, do not consume because sumac is related)
- Clip off a couple of berry clusters (aka “bob”).
- Break the berry clusters apart and put them into enough cold water to fill your water bottle (hot water will lock tannins in and make it taste bitter). Put the lid on your container and shake vigorously to release the malic acid from the berries.
- Let steep at least a half hour; however, the longer it steeps the better.
Now you will need to use something to strain it to avoid drinking the tiny hairs from the berries. Using a cotton bandana works well, but coffee filters or cheesecloth will work, too.
After straining it will appear slightly cloudy.
- Sweeten to taste if you like and enjoy!
As always “Stay in the Woods!”
Mike at Coalcracker Bushcraft