2 Best Sumac Edible Recipes: Identity, Harvest, And Use

Sumac is a wild plant that produces edible fruits. You can, in fact, use every part of this plant. However, you should correctly identify it and not confuse it with the poisonous sumac.

Its fruits, shoots, and roots are all edible and can also be used for different purposes.

Supplement your diet with the nutritious and delicious recipes of sumac. Sumac berries are tasteful, while the plant as a whole is multipurpose.

In this post, we will discuss sumac edible. We will state its characteristics, harvesting, storage, and uses. Welcome aboard!

What Species Of Sumac Is Edible?

What Species Of Sumac Is Edible?

Foraging is a skill you master over time. Nature provides enough food, but only those who can identify them can benefit.

Like mushrooms, sumac also has edible and poisonous species. Without proper guidance and knowledge, you may end up with the wrong species. Therefore, correct identification is crucial.

Sumac Species

There are about 250 known species of sumac worldwide. The edible ones, such as smooth, fragrant, and staghorn sumacs, produce red berries.

Sumacs belong to the Anacardiaceae family with cashews, mangos, and other poisonous species.

Apart from the edible sumac species, you should be careful of the poisonous ones. These species have similarities and differences compared to their edible counterparts.

What stands out is that their berries never turn dark red but remain white.

Sumac species are dioceses. A plant can either be male or female but not both. They grow in clusters and form an umbrella-shaped canopy.

The plant produces drupes, consisting of between 100-700 flowers. Fertilized female flowers developed into berries, meaning only female sumacs have berries.

The height of sumacs depends on the species in question. They can grow from 9 to 20 feet tall with about 2-4 inches of pinnate leaves.

The leaves consist of about 11-31 leaflets alternating along the main stem.

Sumac species start producing small greenish flowers around May and June and are ready for harvesting in August and September.

Edible sumacs grow in almost all 50 States in the open, sunny, or swampy areas.

You will likely find them in upland prairies, pastures, meadows, orchard edges, borders, along fences, riverbanks, and other places. Foraging for them is easy because of their wide distribution.

How To Identify Sumac Edible

How To Identify Sumac Edible

We have both edible sumacs and poisonous sumacs. You, therefore, need to correctly identify the edible ones.

They may look similar if you consider their general characteristics. Edible sumacs have distinctive clusters of seeds that turn from white to dark red when ripe.

You can also identify them by the structure of the clusters. They are cone-shaped and easy to harvest by cutting them at the cluster’s base.

If you are foraging for edible sumacs, go for those with ripe dark red berries and you should be safe…

Poisonous sumacs, on the other hand, produce berries that remain white.

Ingesting poison-sumac will cause rashes, itchiness, burning sensation on the skin, and swelling that requires medical attention.

Their flowers and fruits also do not form dense clusters like those of edible sumacs. 

Harvest And Store Sumac Berries

Harvest And Store Sumac Berries

Sumac species flower in May and June and are ripe in August and September.

That is the best time to forage for them, but they can be found throughout summer. But how do you harvest and store your ripe sumac berries? Let us get the details.

How To Harvest Sumac Berries

Foraging sumac is easy because they are widely available throughout the United States.

Also, you can grow your own and be ready to harvest them at the right time. They can perform well in different climatic conditions and soils.

Harvesting sumac berries is done by cutting the fruit clusters away from the main tree. Look for a sharp knife. Grab the dark red velvety berries in your hand and cut the stalk near the base.

Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the number you have harvested. It will take you the shortest time possible to get enough berries for you and your family if they are in season.

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How To Store Sumac Berries

Harvesting edible sumacs when in season is never a problem. But if you take more than enough, storage can be a daunting task.

Fresh sumac berries can be used in different dishes. Alternatively, you can dry them to improve their shelf life.

Dried ones can be used in winter when fresh ones cannot be found. You can use a dehydrator or heat lamp to dry the clusters overnight without breaking them.

Also, consider air drying when temperatures are favorable. It may take you longer to completely drain the berries in the sun.

Once dried, use a blender to remove seeds and stalks. You can further shift them with a fine mesh to obtain a fine powder.

Store them in an airtight jar in your pantry. Fresh sumac berries should be used immediately because of their short shelf life. Dried ones, on the other hand, can last indefinitely.

How To Use Sumac Berries

How To Use Sumac Berries

Sumac berries are mainly used in cooking, but you can also consider them for other purposes. Sumac is a wild plant, but it should be on a survivalist list. Here are some of the uses:

Cooking with Sumac Berries

Many people harvest sumac berries for food. They are mostly loved for their tartness flavor when eaten raw or dried and used in food recipes.

You can consider them for berry tea or sumac-ade. Harvest sumac in late summer or early spring for the best taste.

When cooking with sumac berries, do not boil them. Heat makes the berries release high quantities of tannic acid, which will make them bitter.

Apart from the fruits, you can also eat roots and shoots of sumac. They are peeled and eaten raw in the spring. The barks are also delicacies.   

Sumac-Ade Recipe


  • Fresh Sumac Berries Drupes (1 Large Berry Cluster for 2 Cups of Water)
  • Filtered Water
  • Stevia/Sweetener
  • Cheesecloth


Crush the sumac berries cluster in water and soak for a few hours or days to mature. The longer it takes, the stronger the sumac lemonade will be.

Strain the resulting extract through a cheesecloth to remove the seeds, twigs, and other plant materials. You can use any fine mesh fabric if you do not have cheesecloth.

Sweeten the filtrate to taste and serve over ice.

Sumac lemonade is a refreshing beverage that you can make locally following the provided recipe. However, it is not the only use for these wild fruits. Feel free to explore more!

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Other Uses with Sumac Berries

Sumac berries are known for their use in food. But out of curiosity, you can also explore others, as highlighted below:


Sumac has many health benefits. There may not be enough scientific evidence, but studies have proved its effectiveness in alleviating signs of some chronic conditions.

First, it has many beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, healthy fat, and essential vitamins.

Sumac is rich in antioxidant compounds, giving them therapeutic properties. These compounds can neutralize free radicals that can potentially cause cancer, heart diseases, and aging.

They prevent cell damage and lower the oxidation stress in your body. The antioxidant in sumac is also known to reduce inflammation.

Researches prove that sumac can reverse type 2 diabetes and reduce muscle pain. However, it has not been commercially used because of limited information.

Make Dyes

Sumac leaves are a rich source of tannin and can be used with other dyes to enhance their bonding property with the fiber.

When used with iron, sumac can produce neutral gray dye on cellulose or plant fibers. The fruits can be used to make black and red dyes.

Every part of sumac is tannin-packed, making it one of the best materials for dye-making.

Weaving Materials

Sumac for weaving is harvested in the fall because they are flexible. The ones collected in spring and winter are fragile and snap or break when bent.

Navajo relied only on sumac as a source of their weaving materials. These plants were easier to find then than now due to habitat loss.

Baskets and other arts that are woven with sumac are beautiful decoration elements. They are highly-priced for their curb appeal.

Sumac Edible FAQs

What does staghorn sumac taste like?

Staghorn sumac has a tart taste. Sumac tea is one of the nutritious drinks you can make to enjoy the flavor. It is easy to make and packed with vitamin C.

Which sumac is toxic?

Poison-sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is the poisonous relative of edible sumacs. Ingesting it will cause rashes and other symptoms that require medical attention.

They are also smooth and share many features with the edible species, but the flowers and fruits are not dense clusters. The fruits also remain white even when they are ripe.  

Is sumac worse than poison ivy?

No. Poison sumac and poison ivy are related and cause the same symptoms when ingested.

In both cases, rashes will appear on the skin. Other severe symptoms may also be observed in hypersensitive individuals.

Wrapping Up

Foraging for wild fruits can help you survive when living off the grid. You don’t have to grow all your vegetables when nature can provide a couple of edible ones such as sumac.

The only thing you need to learn is how to identify, harvest, and process them ready for use. While foraging for sumac, use features described here to collect only the edible ones.

Thank you for your time at Em Offgrid. We hope you are now more knowledgeable about foraging for sumacs.

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