One of the joys of late summer is the seeing the beautiful wild staghorn sumac which “blooms’ with heads of fuzzy scarlet berries (drupes). This is not the poison sumac which produces white drupes, but rather staghorn sumac (R. typhina) which produces red drupes that can be used to make a tea or sumac-ade.

In Middle Eastern cultures the ripe fruit of a cousin of the staghorn sumac is dried, ground and used as a spice to add a lemony taste to meats, salads and other dishes, including hummus. And those sumac berries are often used as a garnish. Staghorn sumac can be found growing in overgrown fields throughout the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. It is a small tree or large shrub, usually eight to 20 feet tall, but can grow taller under certain conditions.

As always, when gathering plant materials for consumption, be sure to positively identify the plant to be collected. Always get permission from property owners before collecting, and remember the “one-third” rule of collecting from the wild. Leave one third for wildlife, one third for future growth and take one third for yourself.

To make sumac tea, place the heads of four or five fully-ripe sumac berries in a large container and crush slightly with a potato masher. Cover with a half gallon of cold water and let sit overnight. Because the berries or drupes are very fuzzy, you will need to filter the liquid through cheesecloth or a coffee filter the next day. Sweeten to taste with honey and enjoy the cranberry-like flavor and color.

Serve cold, or over ice and enjoy.