Sumac tea is easy to make and readily available in the late summer and fall here in Minnesota. There are several varieties of edible sumac that thrive throughout North America. These shrubs or small trees have lemon scented, alternate leaves and grow from 4 to 20 feet tall. The upright berries are ripe usually in late August through October. As long as the berries are red or red-orange they are safe to use and make one of the best tasting iced teas around! The flavor is reminiscent of a mild cranberry lemonade and is a great source of natural vitamin C.
Everyone's heard of poison sumac but the plant is much different than the edible species. It is not a very common plant so I don't have a picture but here's a brief description to help you identify it:
Since we are using the upright red berries for sumac tea you don't need to worry about mistaking edible sumac for the poison variety!
HOW TO MAKE SUMAC TEA
Pick 3-5 bright red berry clusters on a dry day and crush lightly with your hands. Put the berries in a pitcher and fill with cold water. Let the berries infuse for anywhere between a couple hours to a couple days depending on your taste. Strain through a coffee filter or cheese cloth as some varieties of sumac have irritating, tiny hairs that you'd rather not ingest. (A coffee press or french press is a great investment as it has a strainer built in) Once your tea is strained, sip and enjoy one of the best pink lemonades ever!
The sumac berries are full of natural vitamin C. That is the reason you use only cold water to make sumac berry-ade as hot water destroys the vitamin C.
American Indians knew sumac was full of the natural c vitamin and used it to treat colds, fever and scurvy. They also used the ground berries mixed with clay as a poultice on open sores and wounds. Native Americans also mixed the dried sumac berries with tobacco to smoke in peace pipes!
Sumac has also been used for diarrhea, dysentery, sore throats, infections, asthma, cold sores and even as a general tonic. You can even make sumac wine or a sumac tincture if you are so inclined.
Sumac is not only a useful plant but is an exceptionaly beautiful red in the fall!
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