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Sumac! — The Grow Network Community
Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

-Jack Canfield


We have lots of it and every year I tell myself I am going to harvest it before it is too late and every year I miss it. This year I was on track to get some then we had an unexpectedly bad storm that ruined most of it, but I found a stand in a protected spot that still had plenty of red berries in amongst the brown ones so I decided to go for it. First though you may be asking why? Several reasons, it is a wonderful lemony, tangy spice used in Greek and middle eastern cooking, it makes a refreshing beverage, and it has several health benefits.

There are a few safety concerns to be aware of. There is a plant out there known as Poison Sumac that is, well, poisonous. It grows in wetlands and has white berries, learn what it is and don't harvest it. Also Sumac is related to Cashews , if you have a cashew allergy avoid using them. Some people get a rash when handling Sumac. So be aware.

OK, now for the fun. After you harvest it the first thing to do is dry it. If you have dehydrator use that. I don't so I put on the racks in my oven, set it at the lowest setting, left it open a crack and allowed it to dry for about twelve hours. I did check it periodically to make sure it wasn't cooking. I was afraid to leave it in longer as I didn't want it to heat up, so I pulled it out and let it finish air drying. 

I didn't get back to it for a couple of days. At that point I took it between my fingers and rubbed the berries off the stems, they will still be sticky, they should be, but they will come off easily. Because these were starting to age I had a lot of brown seeds in there so I had to winnow them. I just put the berries in a large mesh strainer over the sink and shook and swirled and rubbed them. The dry husks came off the seeds, fell through the mesh into sink where I wiped them out and threw them away.

This also allows you to pick out the little stems and other debris. Now that the berries were dry and cleaned it was time to grind them. You don't want to grind the seeds. These seeds are very hard and the average coffee grinder, spice grinder, blender or even food processor won't grind them up. I wouldn't use a Bullet or a Ninja or other high powered food processor. I used a coffee grinder. After grinding you have a lovely flaky powder mixed in with many brown and green seeds now you need to get out a finer meshed strainer and put your processed Sumac through that. I just put some in, tapped the sides the powder fell into the waiting dish, then dump out the seeds, repeat.

Done! A lovely mahogany, lemony flavored spice. Store in dark jars out of direct sun, away from heat.

How do I use it? I made a rub with some of it for dinner. 

1Tbs Sumac

1Tbs Thyme

1Tbs New Mexico Oregano

1Tbs Black Pepper

1tsp Cumin

1tsp New Mexico chili pepper

1tsp salt

Rub meat with olive oil, generously rub with spice mix brown on all sides toss in 3 or 4 cloves of garlic 1 or 2 onions a few mushrooms a cup of water and cook till done. I used an Instant pot, but an oven would work just as well.

I found many rub recipes online, I just picked out my favorite herbs and spices from the various ones and it worked well for us, so adapt to what you like and have on hand.


  • merlin44merlin44 Posts: 441 ✭✭✭✭

    This Ozark mountain is plenty with Smooth Sumac, a favorite of my goats. Sumac yields a beautiful light colored wood after the goats strip the bark I use in crafts. Enjoy "Ozark Lemonade" when the berries ripen. Didn't know about the cashew connection, thankfully the learning never ends.

  • pamelamackenziepamelamackenzie Posts: 145 ✭✭✭

    When I was a child, I viewed them as free sweet tart suckers. I would pick and put in bowl of sugar and then pop some in my mouth.

  • VickiPVickiP Posts: 428 ✭✭✭✭

    @merlin44 I have never investigated using the wood, I'll give that a close look because we have a lot of it. @pamelamackenzie we used to suck on them too, never dipped them in sugar, but I can see that would taste like a pop tart!

  • Melissa SwartzMelissa Swartz Posts: 166 ✭✭✭

    VickiP, thanks for the explanation on how to use Sumac. There is a ton of it around here and I have been wanting to grab some and learn how to use it. Your timing is excellent!

  • VickiPVickiP Posts: 428 ✭✭✭✭

    That sounds good!

  • merlin44merlin44 Posts: 441 ✭✭✭✭

    @Lisa K delicious idea, will be trying that.

  • Obiora EObiora E Posts: 519 ✭✭✭✭

    @VickiP Thank you for sharing. On our farm we have Smooth Sumac and also Winged Sumac. I tried harvesting them both about 2 or 3 years ago and used them in Sumac Lemonade. It was good but I didn't realize until the following year that I did it with the seeds and not the fruit (I harvested them too late). I also saved them for usage as natural dyes (both a mordant and dye).

    Last year I made a jelly with the Winged Sumac (made a tea with the bark, stems, and berries), used in a herbal granita, and infused water (with other plants). I just recently made a Smooth Sumac jelly and will also use both for an herbal mead and herbal granita.

  • Obiora EObiora E Posts: 519 ✭✭✭✭

    I used the powder too for a homemade Vitamin C pill along with Amla powder and Rose Hip powder. And I added some of the powder to my pancake batter and will try using it in other recipes too.

  • VickiPVickiP Posts: 428 ✭✭✭✭

    The sumac I have is mostly Winged but I have a few stands of Staghorn and some Smooth. Our land has several elevations and some is more sheltered. Most on line sources recommend Staghorn, but honestly I prefer the winged. I think it has a better flavor.

  • LinziLinzi Posts: 124 admin

    Thank you for posting this guide on processing it down to a ground spice! 😄

    I gathered a small batch the other day, but only harvested a little. It was a small grouping of bushes and had been the only set I had seen this year. Now . . . I'm seeing those bright red berries everywhere! Now that I know how to process them, I'm planning to go gather more tomorrow.

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