In the middle of a hot and steamy July, there’s nothing like a tall glass of refreshing lemonade. But here in the Midwest, lemons aren’t local… but guess what? You can make that pitcher of lemonade – or a copycat “lemonade” without the lemons while using the staghorn sumac berries instead!
“What,” you say? Lemonade without lemons??? Well, ok, so sumac “lemonade” would more appropriately be called a tea. But that’s besides the point… Infused in cold water overnight, the sumac berries of Rhus glabra and Rhus typhina make a great-tasting, refreshing sour and citrus-like beverage that is delicious on its own or simply sweetened with honey and garnished with lavender for an extra herbal flavor.
Common in hedgerows and at the edges of the field are the staghorn and smooth sumac (Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra respectively). Both sumacs are common native shrubs whose flower clusters ripen into deep red fruit clusters toward the end of July and into early September. For more tips on identifying sumac, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields!
The berries – or drupes in botanical language – taste sour like lemonade. Use hand pruners to gather the drupes into a bucket, choosing the clusters that are most bright in color and most uniformly red. In the kitchen, separate the red and sour drupes from the stems – be warned there may be a scattering of small bugs as you sort the plants.
To prepare: Pack the drupes into a jar and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for a day or so in the fridge. Strain the liquid into a serving pitcher and voila – a delicious pink lemonade! Serve cold over ice and garnish with sprigs of lavender.
To see my TV segment on Staghorn Sumac Lemonade and easy tips for foraging with kids, visit WZZM13 Online: Staghorn Sumac.
For more on wild edibles, check out my book, Midwest Foraging.