An Unexpected and Protective Gift From A Common Plant
Sun bounces off and intensifies the fuzziness off these pretty pink Sumac berries. As hundreds of coral pink fuzzy berries ripen to brilliant red on each stem over the summer months, Vitamin C levels in the berries also deepen in their strength of antioxidant protection. Sumac berries store very well all year and when the cold winter wind whistles outside and snow piles up against your door, Sumac Lemonade offers a welcome reminder of the long-lost taste of the summer sun.
The Difference Between Staghorn Sumac and Poison Sumac
Before you harvest Sumac berries, you must be able to recognize the difference between edible Sumac and poison Sumac, because this is something that many people wonder and worry about. If you never taste pink lemonade from Sumac berries because you thought they were poisonous, that would be very sad. Staghorn Sumac grows as a shrub or tree with long jagged edged leaves that hang downward. It forms large upward growing clusters of fuzzy berries that go from lime green to coral pink to intense and brilliant red. The Staghorn grows in dry soil, and you’ll never see it growing beside Poison Sumac, which is also a shrub or tree. Poison Sumac also has compound leaves, however the leaves grow upward and have smooth edges. The white berries are smooth and hang downward, and don’t have the characteristic hairs of Staghorn berries. Poison Sumac grows in wet areas and in standing water in marshes, bogs and wooded swamps; quite an opposite habitat to its edible cousin. To make it very clear, when you see a Sumac with fuzzy red berries, that’s the kind we can eat!
Harvest Sumac berries from late July through August, after they have turned red. Don’t leave them too long on the tree because rain will eventually leach out all their surprising and delicious berry tartness. Cut each bunch of berries off the main stem. Leave them to dry in the open air and later roll inside cotton towels. When there is no moisture left, after one or two months, pack them in a large glass jar for storage over winter. Alternatively you can dry them in a dehydrator.
When you are ready to make a tall glass of refreshing pink lemonade in the long summer heat, or in the dead cold of winter, pull the berries (fresh or dried) off the stem and throw them into a large glass jug. Fill with fresh boiled water and let sit for 30 minutes or so. Add raw unpasteurized honey to taste if you wish but it’s not necessary if you enjoy the fresh tartness of lemon water. To serve the lemonade, pour it through three or four layers of cheesecloth into a large glass with ice. This removes the tiny hairs; but if you miss a few, they don’t hurt and you probably won’t even notice them because you’ll be enjoying your lemonade so much.