No doubt you’ve seen them before. Sumac is a plant that grows wild all over New Hampshire. It will grow in places where it seems inhospitable to almost any plant. And it makes a great tea or lemonade from late fall right on through spring when the old clusters dry out and are replaced with new ones that will be tasteless until the end of summer.
There are several species of sumac but you want the Staghorn variety for your tea. Its upright cluster of red seeds and distinctive velvety feel on the newer growth is a sure sign that you are using the correct sumac.
If you are nervous about this because you may have heard of Poison Sumac, don’t be. Poison Sumac is actually much more rare in New Hampshire and has white berries that droop. It is impossible to mistake for the more common Staghorn variety.
Making Sumac-ade is quite easy. Gather a grocery size bag of the clusters. Take a large pot and fill it with fresh water and put the clusters right into the water. Using your hands, crush the clusters until they break apart in the water and allow them to steep for an hour or two. Drain the liquid through cheesecloth or some other clean, disposable cloth, toss the clusters in your compost pile, add sweetener to taste (for lemonade) and voila!.
If you like it as tea, you need not go through the process above but can steep a handful of the seeds in hot water for just a few minutes and sweeten as you like it. You can also hang the pods to dry and store them for later.
Wayne King is a recovering politician, nature writer and political commentator and President of Moosewood Communications in Rumney, NH. He blogs from his space in the Blogosphere, Greener Minds: GreenerMinds.Blogspot.com where he advocates for a sustainable planet; and from the Moosewood Communications Blog MoosewoodCommunications.blogspot.com.
Photo. David P. Whelan