Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a North American plant that has been used here for centuries by the native people. We are lucky to have a small grove of these trees growing in a distant corner of our property. I love the tropical vibe of their leaves and their velvety texture and their vibrant fall coloring. Every summer after flowering, they produce bright red fruits (known as drupes) composed of sour, fuzzy seeds. Their citrusy flavor can be drawn out of the fuzz when it’s steeped in fresh, cold water. The resulting beverage is known as “sumac-ade” or “rhus juice.”
The drupes have the best flavor when they’re fully ripe so wait to harvest them until they are a deep red color. Pick a little berry off the cluster and give it a taste. If they’re pleasantly sour, they’re ready to harvest. This will usually be in August and September.
Making “Rhus Juice” from Staghorn Sumac berries
This is incredibly easy to whip up. First, I used my hands to pull the fuzzy berries away from the stem; I ended up with about 3-4 cups worth of them. I put them in a large pitcher with about 6-7 cups of water and let them soak, covered, for a couple hours. with occasional stirring. Afterwards, I removed all the large plant debris with a small, handheld strainer and filtered the water through a coffee filter. After taking a sip, I didn’t bother with adding sweetener. The taste is so refreshing. It’s very similar to the taste you get when you add a big squeeze of lemon to your glass of water.