Herb Profile: Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina 

Sumac berries are sour, cooling and astringent and are used both medicinally, and as a condiment in Middle Eastern cooking. Medicinally, it is considered excellent for fluid loss from many different areas of the body.

Sumac helps the body with runny secretions from head colds, irritable coughing from excessive salivation and with watery discharges from the lungs. It is strengthening to the kidneys, helping it to retain water and by making blood sugar levels more manageable for diabetics. It is also useful for excessive secretions in the gastrointestinal and reproductive areas.

The berries are collected when ripe and are tinctured fresh or dried for infusions. To facilitate drying, cut the berries off the stem first. Once dry, you can use them ground up in recipes calling for sumac (lots of middle eastern cooking) or as a component of the spice blend za’atar (wild sumac, thyme and sesame seeds). Sprinkle on everything from eggs to potato salad.



Sumac Sun Tea

To make tea with sumac, it is best done with cool water and for a longer infusion like four hours. Boiling water will release the tannins from the berries and will cause the tea to be overly bitter. To make your tea, place several sumac clusters in a jar, add water, cover and leave for about four hours (or in the sun for a day). Strain through muslin to remove the tiny fibers and enjoy! Sumac tea is cooling and is great on hot summer days.

Sumac Soda (from Brittany Nickerson of Thyme Herbal)

Place 4 to 5 sumac clusters into a 1/2 gallon mason jar and fill with warm water. Allow this to steep overnight. In the morning, strain the infusion through a fine strainer. Return the infusion to the mason jar and add 1/2 cup yogurt whey, 1/2 cup agave or honey and 1/2 lemon (optional) and shake well. With the lid on, allow this mixture to sit out, or ferment, at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

After this initial fermentation it is time to bottle your soda. Brittany prefers to use glass bottles but you can use plastic too, either should have a tight fitting lid. Make sure your bottles and funnels are very clean. Pour the soda into the bottles and tightly secure the lid. The soda can be left out at room temperature in a pantry or cupboard for up to a week, during which time it will build up carbonation. Or you can refrigerate it immediately and drink it right away. This soda is delicious and a delightful color.

These sodas are alive and will continue to ferment in the bottles (and will be more active in warmer environments). These sodas are not meant to be aged or stored long term and should be kept in the refrigerator or in another cool place. If the soda is left to ferment too long (over a month) excessive carbonation will build up in the bottle and the bottle may explode or the soda may spray everywhere when opened.


Sumac is in the same family as poison ivy, cashews and mangoes and should be avoided by people with severe allergies to any of those plants.



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