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.
I always thought it would be neat to have an “edible forest.” I was delighted to find a thriving population of native edible plants already on our property when we bought it. It’s in early June that the black raspberries and red raspberries are quickly ripening. When raspberries are getting sparse during the end of July, the blackberries begin showing up. Before you know it, it’s the end of summer and you can find one last flush of raspberries.
Because these three species are all members of the same genus (Rubus), they share some common characteristics, such as prickly stems. We have a lot of them growing wild here but it will take some work to get them producing higher yields.
Note: I’ll occasionally update this blog post with new photos and information.
Non-native plant species are simply plants that originate in a different region than the region in which they are currently growing. Non-native plants aren’t always a problem but sometimes they become invasive. Invasive, non-native plant species become a problem when their growth goes unchecked and they begin negatively impacting the health and prosperity of the native plant life (and the native fauna, by extension). Examples of our most concerning invasive plants are Autumn Olive, Garlic Mustard, and Multiflora Rose.
Non-native plants that establish sustainable, viable populations are said be “naturalized.” Plants can be naturalized but not invasive if their presence doesn’t negatively impact native wildlife. We have numerous naturalized species and many of them provide good foraging opportunities for humans and animals. Examples of naturalized plants that occur on our property include Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Highly Invasive, Non-Native Herbaceous Plants:
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is native to Europe and highly invasive here because it’s prolific and there are very few animals that effectively forage on it. It tastes and smells like garlic and is enjoyed by humans in salads, etc. A single plant can produce hundreds of seeds that remain viable for years. They are easily pulled from the ground but you must dispose of them properly. I pulled hundreds of these flowering garlic mustard plants in early spring and heaped them next to my compost pile. Wouldn’t you know.. a week later, the dried up pile of plants was continuing to produce flowers and even going to seed. That persistent pile of weeds ended up in the fire instead.
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. When it is bursting with purple flowers in late July, it is easily spotted in moist ditches and meadows, marshes, and alongside lakes. They are known to affect wetland habitat by quickly crowding out native cattails and forming a mono-culture that fails to support the same diversity of life. Using biological control methods can be problematic but it has shown success with purple loosestrife. The same beetles that control purple loosestrife populations in their native ranges were in introduced to Michigan in 1994. There is good evidence to show that these beetles specifically target purple loosestrife while leaving native plants unharmed (Blossey et al. 1994).
White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) is native to Europe and Asia. It can be easily pulled but it can’t be destroyed with fire. It must be disposed of in the trash.
Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) is native to Africa, Asia, and Europe. Eradicating this plant is not easy.
Highly Invasive, Non-Native Trees and Shrubs:
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is native to Asia.
Multiflora Rose or Japanese Rose (Rosa multiflora) is native to Asia and invasive here. They produce large clusters of edible rose hips that have seeds that persist in the soil seed bank for decades. In the grey dead of winter, its bright red rose hips aren’t an unwelcome sight. However, the large recurved spines will destroy you as you attempt to eradicate it.
Honeysuckle We have non-native honeysuckle of both the pink and white variety here. The berries they produce are enjoyed by my chickens.
Non-Native, Naturalized Herbaceous Plants of least concern:
Blossey, B., Schroeder, D., Hight, S.D., and Malecki, R.A. (1994) Host specificity and environmental impact of two leaf beetles (Galerucellacalmariensis and G. pusilla) for biological control of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Weed Sci., 42: 134-140.