Sumac Identification and uses

Would it surprise you that this unusual plant has berries that taste just like lemons? It’s true, and it is quite an interesting coincidence. It makes sense that, in the past, native peoples of North America used the berries to make a drink not unlike lemonade. Other parts of the tree were used for various medicinal purposes. This article will address the range, identification, food uses, medicinal uses, and warnings associated with sumac.

As you may already know, Sumac is not a single species as there are approximately 250 different species that thrive throughout the world. This article mainly addresses the uses of the two species “Smooth Sumac” and “Staghorn Sumac”.

Range: Subtropical and warm temperate regions. In North America, as far North as Southern Ontario.

Description varies across the (approximately) 250 different species. A general description is as follows: Deciduous shrub, 1 to 3 meters tall, often forming thickets. Leaves are divided into lance-shaped, 5-12 cm long, toothed leaflets. The leaves turn a beautiful orange-red in autumn. See photos provided below:


Food Uses:
The fuzzy, red fruits can be eaten after washing them in water. They can be added to drinks making a nice rose colour, and adding a very lemon-like flavor. They can be used to relieve thirst and have a pleasant aftertaste.

Medicinal uses:
The fruit can be boiled to relieve bleeding after childbirth. The root tea was taken to prevent fluid retention and painful urination. Sumac branches were used to make teas for treating tuberculosis.

Other Uses:
The roots and leaves yield a yellow to grey dye. This can be used to dye fabrics for clothing or textiles. Native Americans also used the leaves and berries of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures. Some sumacs contain tannin that can be used for leather tanning. Leather that has been treated with sumac tannin is very bright in appearance, often even nearly white in color.

Some species of sumac are poisonous; take for example, the White sumac. Take caution to not even touch the dangerous species of sumac, as they can cause severe skin irritations like those from Poison Ivy or Poison Oak. Those who are particularly sensitive to the poisonous types of sumac my also be hypersensitive to this non-poisonous species (smooth sumac). Remember that this article is no way is intended to offer medical advice; it is merely an interesting resource for those who would like to become more familiar with some useful plants.
s (smooth sumac).