Archive for September 28th, 2011

Staghorn Sumac – Rhus typhina

Staghorn Sumac berries
Staghorn Sumac berries

…Now by the brook the maple leans

With all his glory spread,

And all the sumachs on the hills

Have turned their green to red…

by William Wilfred Campbell

This native to eastern North America grows where the soils are rich near streams, along roadways, railway embankments and at the edges of woods. From June through until September the fruit can be found ripe and ready for harvest. The seeds need to be fully ripe, deep red and sticky, or the flavor is not at its best.

When I was a young teen at Rock Creek Girl Scout camp in the mountains of western Maryland, we had a naturalist come to speak to us one summer. He told us about endangered species and also about those plants considered weeds that could become invasive, like the Staghorn Sumac. His logic was if we all harvested the berries every year, leaving enough for the birds in the winter, then they couldn’t become invasive. On top of that everyone would be drinking one of the most enjoyable natural, health drinks available.

He had us wash the berries, and then crush them in a pitcher. To that he added fresh spring water, a bit of sweetener (he used honey) and stirred well. About 4 hours later when we were hot and sweaty after tromping through he woods with him, he had us fill a glass with ice and he strained the water from the sumac berries over the cubes of ice giving us our first taste of wonder!

Although infrequently used in herbal medicine today Sumac was used by the Native American of this continent for centuries. Almost every part of the bush was useful in medicine.

            Leaves: are astringent

            Bark: are antiseptic, astringent, galactogogue, tonic

            Roots: are astringent, blood purifier, diuretic, emetic

            Berries: are astringent, blood purifier

            Sap: is astringent

The only caution in using this plant is that some sensitive people will develop a rash from contact with this plant. Even with the rash, it is NOT to be confused with its poisonous cousin Poison Sumac!

Staghorn has a large amount of tannin in its leaves and bark, which allows it to be used as a mordant in dyeing. The leaves also produce a brown dye. A yellow dye is obtained from the roots; and an orange dye is extracted from the inner bark when mixed with Bloodroot. A black ink can be had from the boiling of the leaves and the fruit together.

A practice that was popular many years ago, and is still is some small use today, is to take and dry the leaves and berries. These dried components are then added to other herbs and used as a smoking mixture by some Native American Tribes