Diva Researching: Fall Harvesting…Sumac

Sumac Processing

First things first… no, we are not talking poison sumac! Secondly, it is extremely easy to tell the difference between poison sumac and Staghorn Sumac, Staghorn Sumac being the edible version. We see a ton of Staghorn Sumac growing in the Midwest, but it grows easily throughout most parts of the country. We have so much of it growing here it seems a little crazy sumac it isn’t used more in cooking in the Midwest. I suppose that’s because when people here think sumac they automatically think it’s poisonous!

Staghorn Sumac has a distinctive dark red or bright red staghorn shaped pod that you just can’t miss driving down any country road. The poisonous sumac has little green or white berries. I do not have a picture of it because I could not find any, but I encourage you to look online and so you can see the difference for yourself.


The best time to harvest sumac in the Midwest is late July through mid-September, August being ideal. The staghorn is fully ripe then and it still fresh before it has seen a lot of rain. Every heavy rain actually washes away a little of the sumac flavor as it is very water soluble. To harvest it, I like to look for a tree that is off a main road, I try not to forage along busy roads. My feeling is that all the car exhaust pollutes the plants alongside the road. I just pull over on the side of the road and cut some of the red staghorn off the tree by cutting right where the staghorn meets the branch with a pair of scissors or pruning shears. Keep in mind these trees are generally not incredibly tall so you should be able to reach some of the lower branches but you may need to bring a footstool with you just to be sure you can reach.

The easiest thing to do with sumac is to make a simple tea with the stag. If you think the adventure of foraging is exciting I certainly think making a simple tea at the end of your effort should be the perfect reward on a hot August day! If you like rosehip or hibiscus tea, I think you will like this tea. It has loads of antioxidants, a beautiful bright tart flavor and a little bitterness. The bitterness may be mellowed with some sugar or honey, if you like. You can also add fresh squeezed lemon for a sumac lemonade! All you do is put a few of the stags in a heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours and strain through a fine strainer or cheese cloth. Serve cold or hot. 

Sumac has a real tartness and is used somewhat like lemon in the Middle East where it is a very common spice. To prepare the sumac as a spice, I start by removing the little individual red berries (drupes) that make up the stag. I take all the berries and put them in the blender and process for a minute or two. The red fluffy outer part of the berry separates from the seed in the center. I put the mixture into a fine strainer and rub the mixture. The red fluff will fall through the strainer leaving the seeds behind. I discard the seeds and put the red fluffy stuff on a parchment lined sheet pan. I toast this in the oven at 300 degrees for just about 5 to 8 minutes. The spice will just start to get aromatic. I let this cool and put it in an airtight jar. The sumac spice will keep nice and fresh for about a year.

Sumac is often used in spice blends but you can finish a dish with it just like you would with a little fresh cracked pepper or salt. It is perfect on grilled lamb, rice, chickpea or roasted eggplant dish like I made here. Toss it in a summer green salad or with fresh cucumbers. Its bright fresh lemony pop ads a wonderful contrast and the beautiful red color is a true showstopper!

Video: https://youtu.be/11t21KNZcYA

https://www.thechoppingblock.com/blog/sumac-foraging-and-preparation-0

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When most people think of “sumac,” they think of the itchy relative of poison ivy. Staghorn sumac, however, is an entirely different variety, and is both edible and delicious! Here are some of the ways people around the world use it, plus some instructions for harvesting, drying, and using it in a recipe!

Uses For Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac, or Rhus typhina, is easily identified by the red fruit clusters resembling an Olympic torch, or the velvety antlers of a male deer (stag), hence the name of “staghorn.”

Wild Edibles: Sumac Berries

When most people think of “sumac,” they think of the itchy relative of poison ivy. Staghorn sumac, however, is an entirely different variety, and is both edible and delicious! Here are some of the ways people around the world use it, plus some instructions for harvesting, drying, and using it in a recipe!

Uses For Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac, or Rhus typhina, is easily identified by the red fruit clusters resembling an Olympic torch, or the velvety antlers of a male deer (stag), hence the name of “staghorn.”

Sumac is very popular in both the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In places like Israel, Turkey, and Italy, people use dried, ground sumac as a flavoring and a color enhancer. These berries have a tart flavor that is reminiscent of lemons, but not as sour. In fact, before lemons were imported to Europe, the Romans used these berries to add a tangy taste to their meals. They are high in vitamins A, C, and antioxidants.

Today, many Middle Eastern cultures still prefer sumac to lemons or vinegar. People keep it in shakers on the table to season their favorite foods in much the same way that we use salt or pepper.

Sumac berries also have a long history as an herbal remedy. Early pioneers treated coughs, sore throats and fevers with sumac, while American Indians used these berries to treat anything from reproductive problems to stomachaches and wounds.

How to Harvest and Preserve Sumac

Harvesting your own sumac berries is easy. Staghorn sumac grows wild throughout the Great Plains and the eastern half of the United States. If you

Not Poison Sumac

Staghorn sumac is not to be confused with poison sumac. If you’re worried about accidentally picking poison sumac berries, just remember that poison sumac berries are white, not red. In fact, many Staghorn sumac plants have been mistakenly taken down in the belief that they are poisonous. In addition, poison sumac normally grows in swampy areas, so if you stick to the dry areas that Staghorn sumac prefers, you’re unlikely to ever run across a poison sumac tree.

o harvest the berries, simply cut the clusters, called “bobs” away from the trees. Roll a couple of the velvety berries between your fingers and then give your finger a lick – you’ll taste the tartness! You can use the berries as they are, or you can dry them for use throughout the winter. If you choose to dry them, dry the entire cluster with a dehydrator or under heat lamps overnight. Ovens usually can’t heat low enough to dry them gently (125º-150º). Once dry, use a blender to separate the dried berries from the seeds and sticks. Then you’ll be able to sift the sumac powder through a fine mesh strainer for later use.

Cooking with Sumac

Ground, dried sumac berries taste great as a spice rub for lamb, fish and chicken. These berries are also used as a salad topping, and you can include them in your favorite dressings. Middle Eastern chefs use sumac as a topping for fattoush salad, and are often sprinkled on hummus to add both color and a zesty flavor. In the United States, one of the most common ways to use sumac is to make red lemonade. Some even call it the “Lemonade Tree.” Give it a try!

Sumac Red Lemonade

Ingredients:

1 pint fresh sumac berries (about 6 to 8 clusters)
1/2 gallon cold water
Sugar to taste

Add the berries to the water and use a potato masher or a spoon to crush the berries so they release their flavor. Let the berries steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Once the sumac lemonade is flavored to your liking, pour it through a strainer or cheesecloth to remove the berries. Then add enough sugar to sweeten the drink, but not so much that you lose the tangy flavor. Pour your sumac lemonade over ice and enjoy!

Video on Sumac: https://youtu.be/gB40BKkMIy8

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