Sumac: A Late Summer Tea

Sumac fruits make the perfect summer time sun tea.

 

This stuff gets EVERYWHERE...

My grandmother is a bit of a traveler. On one of her various adventures, she found herself on a tour of several rather fancy formal gardens in Germany. Much to her surprise, she found that in every one pride of place had been given to a Rhus trilobata, Staghorn Sumac, one of our more weedy eastern US species. Cultivated as an ornamental throughout the US and the world, Sumac tends to get around.

  Rhus glabra,  smooth sumac. While in the same family, the shrubby sumacs are very different to the potentially dermatitis inducing  Toxicodendron vernix,  or Poison Sumac.

Rhus glabra, smooth sumac. While in the same family, the shrubby sumacs are very different to the potentially dermatitis inducing Toxicodendron vernix, or Poison Sumac.

...And I do mean everywhere

I’ve seen sumacs growing in disturbed soil from Northern Oregon, all the way down to LA, where it was shooting up from a crack in a concrete canal. You can see it growing through sidewalk cracks in Denver and Boulder in Colorado. If you happen to be strolling near the Miami airport, you’ll note row after row of sumacs planted as ornamentals. And of course, it’s one of the more predominant roadside plants in much of New England:)

 

 

 

  Rhus typhina,  with it's crazy fuzzy fruits

Rhus typhina, with it's crazy fuzzy fruits

 

To pick or not to pick

As I mentioned above,sumac loves disturbed soil. I’ve always admired it’s ability to grow from the most disturbed and seemingly toxic soil. I’ve seen them take root right in the oil stained tarmac of an abandoned gas station, as well as in a pile of car parts, oil drums, and metal tailings. However, while I admire the tenacity of the plant, seeing them grow in these sites does not encourage me to harvest them.

Use Those Instincts!

As you might imagine, these environments may not bring out the best in a plant’s chemical profile. Though there are those who would argue this point, saying that the tougher plants are the more potently medicinal ones, I personally feel a bit sketched out by harvesting from areas of high pollution. This is up to you to develop an opinion. Trust your instincts:)

The Ripeness of Things

If you pick your sumac fruits too early, you end up with slightly yellow water and the merest trace of flavor. Make sure your fruits have a sour tang to them when you taste a drupe-it should be a pretty potent flavor.

Sweet 'n Sour Summer Tea

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 large sumac berry clusters, cleaned form the stem.
  • 1 quart water

And that’s it for ingredients. Easy, eh? From here, you have 2 ways to go.

Sun Tea

This method is about as simple as it gets. Simply put your sumac fruits in water and let it sit in the hot-hot sun for about 4-6 hours. Should give you a light pink to dark red tea, depending on the ripeness of your fruits.

  Look at that color! Whichever method you use, you should end up with a light to deeply red colored tea. Add a bit of mint to this delightfully bright infusion and enjoy!

Look at that color! Whichever method you use, you should end up with a light to deeply red colored tea. Add a bit of mint to this delightfully bright infusion and enjoy!

Regular Ol’ Infusion

This is a bit faster, though perhaps not quite as fun. Just take your fruits and pour boiling water over them, cover for 15 minutes, and presto.

For both of these methods, you can then put your tea into the fridge to cool or (my very favorite) make ice pops with them by pouring into an ice cube tray. Simply the best:)