Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Staghorn Sumac


Those striking red berry clusters are edible!!

Believe it or not, you can make the most refreshing summer beverage from these fuzzy sumac berry clusters!

Foragers call it sumac-ade, or wild lemonade.

The Beverage


The flavor of Wild Pink Lemonade is really complex and interesting.

- - THE RECIPE - -

Take 2 or 3 sumac clusters .

Stuff them into a large jar.

Pour cool water over to fill .

Cap and let it sit for a few hours, then stick it in the fridge.

When chilled, strain it.  

Give it a taste – chances are it will be quite sour.  Dilute with more water to your liking.

Sweeten or not... it's terrific either way.


But isn't sumac poisonous?


This is poison sumac, pictured above.

Lucky for us, the  good and the bad sumac berries don't look anything alike.

Poison sumac berries are loose and they dangle down from the branch. They are not red.

Edible sumac berries are a dense, upright, red cluster.  That's what we want!!

Harvesting Staghorn Sumac

When you find edible sumac, taste it before taking it - - put a fuzzy berry in your mouth.  If it's good and lemony you'll know it!

Then just break off the berry cluster and take it home!

Staghorn sumac has very fuzzy stems, hence the name staghorn.

It has edible relatives that are similar, such as Smooth Sumac.  Just make sure the berries are in a dense, upright, red cluster. 

A beautiful plant!


Edible sumac berries ripen in summer.

They start out with not much taste, but go on to give us the main ingredient for delicious wild lemonade!!

Tasty, full of vitamin C and antioxidants, and it's free!!!

Chilled Sumac-ade


Some tips:

Use cool or room temperature water when steeping your sumac, not hot water.  Cool water brings out the best flavor.

When you strain your sumac, you can refill the jar to make a second batch!  Try it.  It will be less intense, but I find the extra batch is still great!

The Edible Sumacs


Staghorn Sumac

This is Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). The branches are hairy or fuzzy, like the velvet on a deer's antler. 

There are many varieties of edible sumac around the world. The ones we see most commonly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are staghorn sumac, smooth sumac and winged sumac.


Smooth Sumac

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is similar to staghorn sumac but not as hairy. 

Smooth sumac twigs are smooth, and the berries have only tiny hairs. 

But the berries of this species are every bit as lemony tasty as it's staghorn cousin. 


Winged Sumac

Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) has wings! 

See the narrow wing-like protrusions along the stem between the leaflets? 

Also known as shining sumac or dwarf sumac, this species has berry clusters that can be upright or drooping. 

And again, they are deliciously lemony!

Where to Find / How to Harvest

Sumac, Walden Pond

Sumac is commonly seen on roadsides and along sunny field edges. 

Very common in eastern United States.



Once you find a stand of sumac trees, it’s really easy to gather enough to make wild lemonade.

I prefer to use clippers to remove the red berry cluster, but you can usually do it by bending and twisting until it gives way.

Test out the flavor of each cluster before taking it. Remove one fuzzy little berry and taste. You’ll be surprised at how some dark red berries may have little flavor, and some lighter ones may pack a pucker wallop! Recent rains can rinse away flavor.

Take home 4 - 6 clusters for each quart of drink. Collect more for storage. They last well in a cool, dry place. I use an open brown paper bag to keep sumac clusters for future use.

 (Note: Sumac is related to mango and cashew, and people allergic to these foods may want to avoid sumac.) 

Another use for tasty sumac


There’s an extremely popular spice mixture in the Middle East called za'atar. 

While the ingredients vary, za’atar usually includes ground sumac berries along with spices such as thyme, oregano and sesame seeds. 

The sumac lends a pleasant tartness to the blend.