Staghorn Sumac: Spice & Pink Lemonade

With Staghorn sumac you can make pink lemonade without the lemons. It grows wild and abundant through northern New England and Maritime Canada. Just pick the staghorn, which are the clusters of red berries shown in the photo, wash, bruise the staghorn over a pitcher with your hands so the berries burst, and let steep in warm water. (You can steep in cold water, but it takes a lot longer.) Sweeten to taste and chill.

You can also dry the berry cluster, pound the berries into powder with a mortar, and use as a lemony spice.

You can also dry the leaves and berries and smoke them. This was a Native American ceremonial and shamanic tradition.

Staghorn sumac is easy to identify, but I should give the warning: do not confuse with poison sumac. Staghorn sumac’s leaves grow in long, split clusters of thin leaflets–as in the photo–while poison sumac has clusters of broad leaves. Also, staghorn fruit consists of hundreds of tiny berries while poison sumac berries are large and individual growing out of a central stalk. Poison sumac leaves also often have a reddish cast. Finally, poison sumac doesn’t grow in the Maritimes (or if it does, it is exceedingly rare), while Staghorn sumac is common.

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