Sumac grows all over the world and is used as a spice, food, a tea and herbal medicine.
It grows in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
It also can be landscaped into many environments.
It has many uses. Check out this site!
Make a delicious, popular Middle Eastern spice using ground sumac berries. Why not forage or garden your own. Dry the berries then grind for a spice!
This wonderful spice mixture is called Za’atar.
Get the recipe here!
Three Leaf Sumac
Same family as cashews and mangoes!
Common Names: Three Leaf Sumac,
Basketbush, Sumac, Lemonade-bush
Foothills, canyons, slopes, usually dry rocky soil, usually on limestone outcrops.
Sunny locations, perhaps dappled shade. Not frost tender. Drought resistant, often used in landscaping.
The up to 6 foot high, rounded shrub, multi branched …when in new growth is supple and more upright when it grows.
When dried these stalks made good strong arrows for Pueblo peoples.
The leaves come in threes with small yellow flowers emerging before the leaves come out.
The fruit when it emerges is like a berry. Starting greenish tan and become orange-red to red in color, with sticky glandular hairs that give the fruit a fuzzy appearance.
The red fuzzy berries make a wonderful lemonade like beverage.
The berries are soaked in cold or hot (not boiling hot) to make a beverage. A little honey or sweetener can be nice since it is very sour. I liked it unsweetened myself. But, however you prepare it, it is cooling and refreshing on a hot day, like a lemonade or prickly pear fruit beverage.
Some people like to call this lemony, sumac drink Rhusade.
Or Rhusade is soothing and nourishing, as a hot beverage, on a winter day as a hot tea.
Per serving, steep a rounded tablespoon of the fresh or dried berries until it meets your fancy.
Don’t bring water to boiling as this brings out the tannins and makes it too astringent as a beverage.
The Rhus trilobata berries can also be added to salads, sandwiches, perhaps sauerkraut?
Throw in some juniper berries into your sauerkraut too. They are traditional.
Be inventive and avoid boiling the berries is my only suggestion.
In Michael Moore’s, Medicinal Plants of the Canyon West., he suggests and indicates 3 leaf Sumac’s uses:
Gather leaves when green.
Gather the berries when they are fully red in summer also when leaves are green or a bit red.
The leaves turn a splendid red in fall. The tree is deciduous.
The dried leaves last a year. The dried berries last 2-3 years.
The leaves can be used in powdered form and a quick salve made with castorlatum from castor oil. It has a petroleum jelly like consistency yet not petroleum based, a plus! Or if your coconut oil is still solid at room temperature try that… or the same with ghee.
Stir 1 part powdered leaves into 2 parts castorlatum gel. *
For a glycerine tincture, macerate 1 part by weight of powdered leaves in 5 parts by volume of a half water & half glycerine menstruum for the tincture. Leave for four weeks. Then shake and strain*
Moore states that the powdered leaves, quick salve and glycerine tinctures are excellent for mucosal-epithelial sores. Such as: lips, mouth membranes, genitals, and nostril membranes. The actions are to soothe and shrink inflamed tissues and to mildly disinfect.
Powdered leaves are very soothing to mouth sores on nursing infants.
*Preparation method is important here, such as with quick salve method and glycerine tincture. Heating and alcohol tincture could pull out too many tannins.
Sumac is originally an Arabic word.
And Rhus, the Genus name, is derived from a Greek word meaning to flow. So named due to its properties in stopping flow of blood, this case with hemorrhages. It is hemostatic. Proper methods and use are critical.
3 Leaf Sumac looks similar to POISON OAK!
Poison Oak is not actually an oak species. It is in the Sumac family too… Anacardiaceae
The leaves of both are lobed.
The next picture is of Poison Oak.
It also turns red in the fall.
Whereas, 3 Leaf Sumac has a velvety texture on the TOPSIDE as well as underneath.
Poison Oak is fuzzy UNDERNEATH the leaf only, shiny on top..
Also, poison oak has non fuzzy whitish-green berries.
Poison oak can cause severe contact dermatitis and further injury if trees are burned and smoke is inhaled.
Three Leaf Sumac
Berries not ripe yet
Research your local species of Sumac. The berries are the easiest way to determine if it is safe. The safe species have red fuzzy berries like the Rhus trilobata here.
3 Leaf Sumac berries makes a wonderful lemony drink!
When I lived on the East Coast I enjoyed making a lemony tea from the Staghorn Sumac. I was in my early twenties then and felt a little bit leery about Sumac. I grew up with caution about Poison Sumac that grew in the swamps. And New England has its fair share of swampy areas in the woods.
One season, I and others, worked as Interpreters, in beige uniform, alongside coworkers of many different Native American backgrounds, including Wampanoag. I am grateful to my friends who taught me so much about Wampanoag customs and culture. Including the use of local plants, such as Staghorn Sumac berries. I even filled in a few times and gave guided nature trail talks, pointing out useful and edible plants. It is fun to piece together these experiences since the plant world is an everyday ally to me now.
A Wampanoag perspective on history and Thanksgiving.
Rhus typhina…Staghorn sumac
Further Herbal medicinal, food and other traditional, global uses of edible/medicinal Sumac, including Native American… just some of the info I found!
Learn to identify the safe Sumacs in your area. This means positively identifying possible poisinous look alikes, in the same family, such as Poison Sumac, Poison Oak, and Poison Ivy.
It brings that old song to mind….maybe I can find it on youtube.
Here it is!
Edible/Medicinal Sumac is: astringent, antipruritic, analgesic, contraceptive (for males,) deoderant, diuretic, emetic, hemostatic, odontalgic, oxytoxic
-tanning leather, dyeing wool, etc.
*-Dyeing hair black/dark…a decoction of boiled leaves (I want to try!….also Globe mallow decoction makes for a fine dark rinse for hair.)
-Added to meat helps deter stomach upset (bacteria on meat?)
-Leaves made into poultice with vinegar or honey stops the spread of gangrene
-Seeds pounded and mixed with honey help with hemorrhoids
-The gummy sap when applied to a tooth eases pain
-The leaf and root helps a woman expel the placenta (there is a description and method of preparation in book cited below.)
-helps stop internal bleeding
-helps with dropsy
-Helps with diseased gums
-Helps with freezing/frostbite or burns
-helpful with some venereal disease with application
-leaf added to tobacco mixes
-sumac helps with: dysentery, fevers, rhematism, dysuria, diahrrea, skin ulcers
-Seeds make oil for lighting or tallow like oil can be made into a candle.
-Decoction of bark and berries for sore throat
-aids in female urinary incontinence
-vermifuge in mixture with other herbs
-leaves rubbed on your skin make for a Bug and Snake repellant
-Root used as deoderant and buds used as perfume
Sumac species may vary in given properties and effects.
*NATURAL HAIR DYE FORMULA USING LEAVES, BARK ETC… equals 👧 😄❤
natural hair dyes including fun colors!
Will keep you posted, I am curious myself how to use 3 Leaf Sumac leaves as a darkening hair rinse.
I made a boiled decoction of fresh leaves, then added apple cider vinegar with success. My hair became a darker tinted shade. 👧
Perhaps dried, powdered leaves made into a paste would further darken my hair. But, I like it!
Haha my gardening hands! While I wait for my hair rinse to finish!
Above, Globe Mallow is used as a traditional dark coloring for hair.
I also want to try black walnut hulls and garden sage… known to darken hair and garden sage is good at covering grey.
The 3 Leaf Sumac branches are used to make basketry and dyes for decorations on baskets too.
Jemez Pueblo people still use Sumac branches in their basketry.
***Beware of POISON SUMAC, POISON IVY and POISON OAK!
This post is mainly a description of 3 leaf sumac…Rhus trilobata.
Only the red, fuzzy berries of Sumacs are edible. Some species may cause contact dermatitis and Poison Sumac should be avoided! It is not included in Sumac’s healing effects. And it is highly toxic!
Here is a botanical sketch of Poison Sumac.
Note the similarity to other Sumacs and also note the whitish berries. The berries are green in spring and not fuzzy. A strong distinguishing feature from the fuzzy red berries of the edible sumacs!
formerly classified as Rhus Genus
In addition to posted links:
Use of Plants. For the Past 500 Years.by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown, Breezy Creeks Press. Ontario. Canada, 1979.
Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province. by Dunmire & Tierney, Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe, NM, 1995.
Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. by Michael Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe, NM, 1989.
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. by Nicholas Culpeper, W. Foulsham & CO., London, England.