“Isn’t Sumac poisonous?” I answered this question at least a dozen times the other day. I guess that is what I get for openly clipping sumac at a picnic. Because I left my bag in the car I began my own parade carrying an armful of sumac fruit. I say parade because I was soon had a following of curious bystanders asking questions. Note to collectors: carrying around a bag of sumac fruit gets lots of stares and some strange conversations, often involving someone’s memory of boy scouts. Arm yourself with information and witty comebacks.
The answer to the question is “Yes and No.” Yes, poison sumac does exist and no, not all sumac is poisonous. There are at least three different types of this fruit bearing tree: Poisonous (white smooth berries), Smooth (fuzzy red berries), Staghorn (very fuzzy berry cluster).
The most common sumac in my neck of the woods is the Staghorn sumac. These trees are found on road sides and waste land. They are easy to spot in the winter because of the ‘stag horn’ growth pattern of the limbs stand out against the snow. The fruit can be hard to get to because the trees always seem to grow on hills.
Collect during the sumer months and wear gloves when working with the fruit because it can make you itchy. Harvest the fuzzy berry clusters by snipping at the stems. Wash them well and then gently crush the berries before covering with boiling water. Allow to steep for a few minutes then strain and sweeten the tea/juice.
If this grows near you, I STRONGLY encourage you to try this. It is the very best FREE juice you can get with the least amount of juice work. Sumac tea is juicy and to quote a friend “it tastes like all those [mystery] fruit juice cocktails.”
It seems like a forbidden fruit because if everyone knew it was this good then everyone would be doing it, right??
Everyone was doing this before soda….