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Can I Really Eat Sumac? How to Use, Prepare, and Enjoy This "Poisonous" Plant

Updated on February 2, 2012
A Picture of Staghorn Sumac
A Picture of Staghorn Sumac | Source
These are all pictures of Poison Sumac. Found in wetlands with smooth leaves that grow upward. The picture of the red leaves is the poison sumac in the fall. The white berries are what the poison produces.
These are all pictures of Poison Sumac. Found in wetlands with smooth leaves that grow upward. The picture of the red leaves is the poison sumac in the fall. The white berries are what the poison produces. | Source

When I first heard my grandpa say that I could make and enjoy sumac I was mortified! Poison sumac can't be eaten! I am allergic to it just from touching it, how can I eat this? No one has ever cleared up this dilemma for me until now. I CAN'T eat poison sumac, however, I CAN eat sumac. I finally cleared up this problem and it all makes sense to me now.

Here's some things you need to know:

Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)

  • Poisonous
  • Dark Brown Bark With White Spots
  • No Red Cones
  • Leaves Grow Upward
  • Grows in Wet Soil (Marsh & Swamp Areas)
  • 6-20 Ft. Small Tree/Shrub
  • Smooth Edge, Compound Leaves With No Hairs
  • Contains Green Berries When Maturing
  • Contains Small, Hard White Berries When Ripe (Look Like Poison Ivy Berries)
  • Birds and Squirrels Eat The Berries
  • See Map For Places Poison Sumac Is Found

Staghorn Sumac jagged leaves
Staghorn Sumac jagged leaves | Source

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus Typhina)

  • Red Cones Are Edible
  • Grows In Dry Soil, Where Other Plants Could Not Survive
  • Compound, Serated Leaflets Covered In Hairs
  • Bark Is Brown With No Spots
  • Cones A Part of The Cashew Family
  • Grows Very Quickly and Aggressively
  • You Can Harvest The Leaves In The Summer and the Bark All Year Round
  • See Map For Where To Find This Plant

How Do I "Use" This Plant?

There are a few uses for the Staghorn Sumac plant, and the whole thing can be used except for the roots.

  1. Bee Keepers use the cones, after they dry them, for their smokers.
  2. Native Americans were known to mix tobacco and other herbs with the sumac cones and leaves for smoking, and that practice is still done by a few today.
  3. You can take the cone off of the plant, wash and let it soak in cold water, add some sugar, and you'll have your very own pink lemonade!
  4. All the parts of the plant can be used to make a natural dye.
  5. Sumac is also plentiful in tannins, and you can use that tannin for whatever purpose you may have!
  6. You can take the cones of one or more plants, dry them out, and grind them up to make a spice powder that lasts for the year. No refridgeration needed! You can sprinkle this poder on many things including rice. This is what the Middle Eastern Chefs do. The spice will have a taste similar to a lemon.

So next time someone tells you that you can eat poison sumac, please correctly inform them what they are talking about, because now you hold the knowledge!

The map on the left shows where you will find Staghorn Sumac. The map on the left shows where you will find Poison Sumac.
The map on the left shows where you will find Staghorn Sumac. The map on the left shows where you will find Poison Sumac. | Source

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