As I drive down the road, I cannot help but to take note of which plants are in all their glory. This month, it is Sumac! Flame red leaves make a blanket over thin branches, supporting dark crimson torches of Sumac drupes, the cluster of berries on this beautiful Autumn showcase.

Rhus glabra (Smooth Sumac) berries

While many people admire Sumac for his beauty, Native Americans and herbalists alike revere this herb for his admirable healing qualities. This month you’ll get to learn all about this herb of note and create some herbal medicine that is fun to take and good to use! 

Rhus copallina (Winged Sumac)

Historically, Sumac has been used by Native Americans for food and medicine. The shoots and roots can be peeled and eaten raw. The berry clusters make a delicious lemonade-like drink when steeped in cold water for several hours. Sumac contains vitamin C and was often used by Native Americans to ward off scurvy during the winter. Energetically, Sumac is sour, cooling and drying. He has an affinity for the kidneys, fluids of the body and skin. Today we still use Sumac in this manner as a source of vitamin C and to help dry up excess fluids in the body.

Rhus glabra bark

Medicinally, the bark or roots are considered to be alterative, antiseptic, astringent and tonic. The bark can be powdered and used to make an antiseptic salve. An decoction of the bark and roots can be used to treat diarrhea, bladder inflammation, colds and flus.

Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac) leaves

Leaves are considered astringent, styptic and tonic. They are often applied as a poultice for skin afflictions and chewed on to relieve sore gums.

Rhus copallina (Winged Sumac) berries starting to ripen

The berries are astringent and refrigerant. Infusions of the them are used in the treatment of constipation, fever and late-onset diabetes.

Sumac will help dry up excessive fluids caused by colds and flus such as postnasal drip and mucus in the lungs which causes coughing. For diabetics who have to urinate a lot, Sumac will slow down this pattern. If you are having diarrhea, a tincture or tea of Sumac can help to stop it.

Stand of Rhus glabra

Use any part of the plant that you have available to you when you need an astringent. This time of year, berries or drupes, are ready for harvesting. Be sure to harvest them before the Autumn rains wash off the berries, once the sour taste is gone, so is the medicine.

So let’s get to the senses surprising portion of the show…

Sumac is also used in cooking in many cultures. The flavor is sour, like lemons. In parts of the world such as Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, Sumac berries are used in cooking. Crushed Dried sumac is known as somagh. You can make your own somagh to use in cooking. Somagh is rubbed into meats for grilling, in bean salads, or on potatoes and beets.

Ready to grind some Sumac berries

To make some somagh, you will need:

1 cluster of Sumac berries
2 bowls
A mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (I like to have one just for using with herbs)
A flour sifter or sieve
A jar to store your ground somagh in

Jaden using a mortar and pestle to grind some Sumac berries

Break off the berries from the stems and place in a bowl. Add a few tablespoons at a time to the mortar and pestle or grinder. If you are using the mortar and pestle, give them a good s’mac or two!

Grinding Sumac berries with a mortar and pestle

After they have been ground, put them in the second bowl. Continue grinding until you have ground the entire cluster of berries.

Using a flour sifter to sift out the seeds. Can you see them? Keep grinding the berries until they are powdered. Alternatively, you can use a clean coffee grinder that is dedicated to grinding herbs.

Sift out the seeds using the flour sifter or the sieve. Compost the seeds and pour the sumac into the jar. Label and store.

Powdered Sumac berries, also known as Somagh, ready to be used in cooking

Try them out in cooking, here’s one of our favorite recipes:

Somagh and Potatoes

4 medium red potatoes
1 tablespoon Somagh
2 tablespoons diced chives
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Sea salt

Cut the potatoes into cubes and boil until soft. Drain off and let cool.

Mix in the other ingredients and stir vigorously, smashing the potatoes as you mix them together. Add sea salt to taste.

This dish has a delightfully sour lemony flavor to it that is sure to surprise your senses!

Dried Sumac berries, ready to be stripped and ground

Want to learn more about Sumac and his delightfully sour healing properties? Get our Cranberry ebook “The Sonnet of Sumac”.