Sweet and Tart Staghorn Sumac Lemonade

General Posts, Identification, Recipes
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And from the desert we head back east…

Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac


Yesterday we gathered staghorn sumac, to make a lemonade-type of drink for the kids from Pittsburgh’s Student Conservation Association (SCA) to sample on their walk today. (I’ll post more pictures and information about all we saw on the walk early next week.)

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) grows in bright red clusters on a shrub or small tree (which spreads “like a weed!”) The staghorn sumac has think, densely hairy branches and twigs (giving the appearance of a stag’s horn.) You can pick the fruit clusters in summer, fall, even into winter, as long as they are still vibrant red. They are high in Vitamin C (so we use cold water when making the lemonade, so as not to destroy the vitamin) and have a sour lemony taste. They can also be dried and used as a lemony spice, common in Middle Eastern recipes.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) has white fruit, please avoid all white fruited sumacs!

Here is how we made the lemonade. It’s very simple:

Above are the sumac clusters on the table, and below I’ve put them in a jar.

Fill the jar with cold water (cold water preserves the vitamin C) and let it sit overnight. In the morning, strain and add sweetener like honey, agave nectar or maple syrup to taste. You could leave out the sweetener as well, it tastes refreshingly sour, like lemon water.

The walk today was so much fun! The kids (and adults) were great - a wonderful enthusiastic group. I’m excited to share with you all we saw!

~ Melissa Sokulski
Food Under Foot

**If you want more information about scheduling a wild edibles walk for your group, check our wild events page. Or you can call Melissa Sokulski at (412) 381-0116, or email to Melissa@FoodUnderFoot.com. Thanks!**

  • stag horn is identifiable it had always grew out back of my house and other places in the eastern part of Maine and Quebec Canada. please there is another plant called sumac u find on the ground is like poison Ivy
    sumac is the same name of a stag horn plant make sure to look for the right plant.

  • Robbob_2001

    Poison Sumac (more rare the more west you go) tends to love watered roots and will not have the normal horn (seedpack) of the staghorns... also differing is the Poisen Sumac will lack the number of leaves (9 to 11) and shape will be oval verses the spear shape leaves of the staghorn....more refrence can be found here...

    http://landscaping.about.com/o...

  • Definitely...always please make sure you are 100% sure of any plant! Thanks so much for your comment and insight.
    ~ Melissa

  • OK, I've been checking out the sumac nearby and have wondered at what stage to harvest. The ones I've looked at were fuzzy red outside, but looked the the "berries" were green under the fuzz. DO they turn red before you cut them?? I can't quite tell from the photo.... I've been anxious to try the sumac lemonade after talking to a guy at the health food store who had some brewing his fridge - he was going to add some ginger to it, sounded delightful!

  • JasonOli

    Candy,

    In Edible Wild Plants - A North American Field Guide by Elias and Dykeman, in the entry on Staghorn sumac, the authors write "Pick fruit clusters late summer to autumn when deep red and fruits have developed strong lemony taste." It sounds like yours may be a bit early, but consider giving it a try now and again later in the season to see if it makes any difference. Just make sure your have correctly identified the plant as Staghorn Sumac. (This book is listed in our Resources section. Just click the icon of the stack of books in the right hand column).

    If you find it bitter, consider separating out the twigs as according to the authors, they add slight bitterness. They also suggest drinking initially in moderation as "some people show allergic reaction".

    Please post again to tell us how it goes.

    ~Jason

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