Staghorn Sumac Tea

The Staghorn Sumac Tree
Wild sumac is a shrub or small tree native to North America. Common to much of Michigan, the Great Lakes region and New England, Staghorn Sumac (rhus typhina) is easily identified by its fuzzy compound leaves and cone-shaped cluster of red berries. See our article on Staghorn sumac for more information.

Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster
Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac fruit cluster (Photo By: Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons)

Staghorn Sumac Health Benefits
Sumac is an ancient medicinal plant with antioxidant properties, and significant levels of Vitamin C. Native Americans used Sumac to treat colds, sore throats, fever, infections, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy. Sumac has also been used to treat asthma and cold sores. It also lowers blood sugar, as it has hypoglycemic properties and can aid in diabetes management. Ground berries mixed with clay created a salve used on open wounds, and Sumac berries are also used in smokers by beekeepers.

Staghorn Sumac Cautions
People who have very sensitive skin or severe allergies may have an allergic reaction to Staghorn Sumac. Other plants in this family, including mangoes and cashews, can also cause irritations and inflammation. There is a similar looking plant that is infamous as a skin irritant called poison sumac, It will give most people the same type of rash as poison ivy. The leaves look similar but poison sumac has green or white berries that hang down in bunches not red berries that go upward in a pyramidal cluster. Another minor concern for some people is that small grubs can also take up residence inside of the berry clusters of staghorn sumac.

The Staghorn Sumac Fruit
Despite these berries having a fuzzy look and feel, the Sumac fruit cluster is technically edible. But it is only really enjoyable when prepared properly. Sumac is used to make a drink called Indian Lemonade, referring to indigenous or Native Americans. The fruit ripens and becomes a maroon color from late summer to early fall. Once ripe and ready for consumption, use berries to add flavor to pies, or steep in cold or room temperature water. Avoid hot and boiling water to prevent bringing out the tannins and developing a bitter taste.

Ingredients
3-6 sumac berry clusters
8-12 cups cold water
Sweetener (honey, agave nectar, sugar, stevia, etc.)

Directions
1. Place berry clusters in plastic sandwich bag and crush slightly, if you prefer.
2. Add berries to pitcher.
3. Add water to berries and soak 8-16 hours.
4. Pour liquid into large bowl through coffee filter or layered cheese cloth to remove solids(including tiny hairs and pieces of stem).
5. Rinse pitcher and add strained tea back to pitcher.
6. Add sweetener of choice to taste and stir.
7. Enjoy.

10 thoughts on “Staghorn Sumac Tea

  • July 7, 2020 at 8:02 pm
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    Do you have pictures or examples of the lifecycle of the fruit? What does it look like when it’s ripe?

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    • July 8, 2020 at 12:07 am
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      I don’t have it up on the site anywhere. You can can email me and I’ll find some more resources that might be helpful.

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      • July 24, 2021 at 8:56 am
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        Can I buy this tea at a store or order on line or will I have to make it myself by scratch?

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        • July 25, 2021 at 11:32 pm
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          I haven’t seen it online. Now is the time of year to spot the red seed tops. I see them a lot on the side of the road. Not that you should harvest from those locations but at least you can spot them and see what they look like.

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  • August 18, 2021 at 7:25 pm
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    Should it be kept refrigerated while steeping?

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    • August 18, 2021 at 10:07 pm
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      It wont hurt to keep them refrigerated while steeping. I’ve done it that way before and they came out fine.

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  • September 24, 2021 at 1:37 pm
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    What’s the best time to “harvest” the berries? Mid summer? End of summer?

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    • September 25, 2021 at 1:31 am
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      Definitely the end of summer, around here its usually late august, early september. The flavor gets stronger at that time. optimal time is a little different each year based on weather. If you forage too early there is less flavor…..too late and they get dried out and bug infested. Somewhere in the middle is a perfect time to harvest.

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  • October 10, 2021 at 9:15 am
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    How do you prepare sumac for long term medicinal use.? If you do everything like you’re making the tea only let the berries dry completely, powder?, then bottle to use reconstituted as needed? Thanks. Just getting started on herbal medicinal uses.

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  • October 24, 2021 at 11:03 am
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    I would drink a glass before bedtime, talk about deep sleep, vivid dreams and REM sleep so much quicker. Would wake up thinking it’s early morning, but it would only be 12 – 1 am , really early morning! Have so much growing on the farm, buts it’s almost November, they are looking kinda sad. Can’t wait for next year!

    Reply

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