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  • Writer's pictureBraden DeForge

Cooking from Abundance: Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac, not to be confused with poison sumac, is a perennial shrub native to Northeastern US and Southern Canada, but can be found elsewhere. Poison sumac is rare, growing in wetlands and bearing white berries. Staghorn sumac is abundant along roadsides and other disturbed areas. The fruits are edible and have a pleasant citrusy taste. Those with a cashew family allergy should avoid this plant.

How to Identify: Staghorn sumac has velvety upper branches like a stag's antlers! They have alternately compounded leaves. Leaflets are long, have a pointed tip, and finely serrated edges.

They are most easily identified by their fruits which are clusters of round, hairy, red fruits which ripen from green to a deep red.

How to Harvest: Sumac can be harvested from late July-September, the best time being August. The fruit can be taste tested before harvest to ensure flavor. Avoid harvesting after a rain event as the flavor will be diminished. This plant's fruits are traditionally used by indigenous peoples to make a sumac tea by infusing the berries. We have a take on this use of the plant and hope you'll enjoy this sumac lemonade recipe!

Serves 4 generously


-2 lemons

-2 cup sumac berries (removed from clusters)

-8 cup water (may be modified depending on desired tartness)

-2 cup sugar

Preparation of syrups

Boil 2 cup water in medium saucepan, then add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Pour off half of

syrup solution and save. Grate the rinds of the lemons and add to saucepan on low heat. Allow to

infuse until tart to the taste. Set lemon syrup aside to cool, then strain into a squeeze bottle or jar.

Add the remaining syrup solution to the saucepan and add sumac berries on low heat. Allow to

infuse for 15 minutes and then take off heat. Wait until the syrup appears rose-colored, then strain

into a squeeze bottle or jar. Syrups can last 1-2 weeks in the fridge and can be used for other


Preparation of lemonade base

Juice the 2 lemons and combine with 6 cups water, add sugar to desired taste. Leave in fridge to


Preparation of lemonade

Add 2 tbsp sumac syrup and 1 tbsp lemon syrup to ~ 1.5 cups lemonade base, add ice if desired.


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