The other day, former pro baseball player Mark Littell and I were talking about my dad, who was a naturalist f the first degree. Much like the father Berenstein Bear, my dad would round up all of us little cubs and take us on regular expeditions into the forest to gather its natural products to turn into food. My family and Mark’s family used to hang out together, and Mark was laughing about the time that my dad brought the bread that he had made from acorns to a party at Mark’s house. Mark and his brother Eric were appalled, but the stuff was actually fairly good. Today, I want to tell you about some other woodsy treats that my dad used to ship up from wild sumac.
Before this year, I was only familiar with the sumac that has smooth leaves. It grows abundantly along ditches and other untended pieces of ground. Because I have removed all of the grass from my lawn, smooth-leafed sumac sprouts all over my lawn. It looks very much like poison oak, and I’ll discuss that later. If you allow any of the sumacs to grow at will, they will soon take over your property and your neighbor’s property, too. Therefore, I usually weed out my smooth-leafed sumac plants.
This year, I discovered the cutleaf variety of staghorn sumac, and I transplanted some of that into my garden. I love it. It looks like a gigantic, exotic fern.
Staghorn Sumac is growing behind and to the right of the cherub in my garden. I started that plant this spring, and it was a tiny sprig. Staghorn Sumac grows rapidly and if the suckers are clipped, it can reach a tree-like height of 30′. If left untended, sumac will spread into a massive bush and will reach a height of about 15′.
During the summer, cutleaf staghorn is a bright, chartreuse green, but during the fall, its leaves become a brilliant red spectacle.
Smooth-leafed sumac is a darker color of green. During the summer, mature sumac plants produce cone-like clusters of red berries. When I was a child, we would make a lemonade-like drink from the red berries. Sumac lemonade is an American treat that the Native Americans enjoyed long before the Europeans arrived.
How to Make Sumac Pink Lemonade
Pick about 12 Clusters of Red Sumac Berries and Place Them in a Pitcher
Cover the Berries with Water [Do Not Boil the Water. That Makes the Lemonade Bitter]
Let the Water Stand for about 10 Minutes
Cover the Top of the Pitcher with Cheesecloth and Strain the Liquid into Another Pitcher
How to Distinguish Sumac fro Poison Oak
The leaves of the smooth sumac plant are serrated. The leaves of poison oak are not serrated. Otherwise, the leaves of both plants are similar.
©Jacki Kellum September 9, 2017