A knack for sumac

Bevies, Superfoods | August 4, 2014 | By

After a family day of skiing and lazing around at the cottage, my family members had built up quite a thirst.


(That’s my little guy who’s only four. His board-sport loving dad is overjoyed to see him on skis this year)



We were out of juice, so I knew that anything with sugar would go over well with the kids. I also knew that anything with vodka would go over well with the dads (skiing was done — water on the water, beer on the pier…).

It was the perfect time to experiment on them … I mean … quench their thirsts … with my sumac juice.

Sumac IMG_6813

As has happened previously on this blog, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t poison anybody. I bought the sumac seeds in the pictures above from my favourite forager-guy at the farmer’s market (he’s hooked me up with lobster mushrooms, spruce tips, and reindeer moss before) and when I did, I asked him why I wouldn’t just pick some from the roadside myself instead of paying him $5, because sumac is all over the place right now. He looked at me and said in a Vincent Price voice, “Well, you could get some yourself, but you would have to make sure you didn’t choose the poisonous variety.” Then he gave me lots of tips about how to tell the difference, but I tuned him out because I had already decided in my head, “Well since you know the difference, if this turns out to be delicious, I’m just going to continue to pay you to keep us all out of hospital.”

I think forager-guy must have known that warning me against the poison variety was securing our continued business relationship (and I admire his corporate-esque protectionism, I must say) because when I got home and read about how to tell the difference between poison sumac and regular, I learned that it’s actually quite easy. Poison sumac is very rare, and the berries look like berries rather than fuzzy fluffy puffs. Poison sumac only grows in very wet areas, and has smooth leaves. The safe stuff’s leaves are usually jagged and it grows all over the place. I was feeling confident enough to go grab some more for myself if I should need it — until I saw this picture of a poison sumac reaction

Thanks poison-sumac.org

Thanks poison-sumac.org

(Do I know how to run an appetizing food blog or what?)

And if you’re getting rid of poison sumac from your property, you never want to burn it because the fumes could be fatal (I’m talkin’ to you here, gentleman homesteader).

I’m joking about staying away from the safe sumac though, actually, because I believe that the risk of finding the sketchy stuff is very low. And it turns out that sumac is a kind of superfood, being a strong antioxidant high in Omega 3s. Plus, the drinks were a hit with my family!

I kept the recipe very simple, pretty-much like a natural iced tea or lemonade, because I wanted to taste the sumac itself. Here’s what I did:

Spiked Sumac-ade

  • 1.5C sumac water (5 sumac buds with water in a 1L container for at least 4 hours on  the counter [longer in the fridge] smashed around with a spoon a few times, then strained)
  • 1C simple syrup (1/2C sugar boiled with 1/2C water, then cooled)
  • Soda water
  • Vodka (1 shot per glass)

Directions: Prepare your sumac water as above, like a cold tea. Not sure the marketers of my jar were intending their statement to mean what it does here, but it still works.

Sumac water IMG_6818

Prepare your simple syrup, and chill it. Make your cocktails by pouring the vodka for each glass over ice (or not) and filling each glass half-full of sweet sumac-ade. Fill the remainder of the glass with soda water.


Sumac drinks IMG_6820

These were a hit with all the skiers, dads and kids alike. Next time I might add mint to make the drinks more mojito-like. As they were, they tasted fruity with a citrus-like tang. Don’t let the fear of boils and growths scare you off — impress your friends with a fancy-pants drink from your own backyard today. Rating: 3 yums


  1. Leave a Reply

    Mike @ Gentleman Homestead
    August 4, 2014

    Mmmmm… Foraged tipsiness.

    Thankfully I haven’t seen any poison sumac nor poison oak at our place. There are some spots of poison ivy though and I’m not sure if Joanna has heeded my lectures on the subject of telling the difference between it and our large raspberry patches, since they can look similar. Yeah, my boy now regularly says, “Daddy needs some cow-low-mine lotion?”

    I know burning poison ivy is a big no-no as it can seriously mess up your respiratory system if inhaled… but I’m not sure if it’s fatal. Yikes! That’s a new one on me.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 4, 2014

      Yes, apparently the airborne oil doesn’t get on well with lungs. Foraged tipsiness gets along very well with me, however. Maybe I should do a whole month of foraged tipsiness! (of posts, anyway)

  2. Leave a Reply

    August 4, 2014

    Well, luckily I don’t think we have the edible variety as well as the poisonous, over here. I would certainly like to taste some real sumac-ade after such a description, but I’ll have to stay with the vodka, the simple syrup, the ice cubes, maybe some mint and some imagination.:(

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 4, 2014

      Well I’m sure your cocktail will work just fine. There might be a Greek weed or two you could mash in? 🙂

  3. Leave a Reply

    August 5, 2014

    Gross! I mean the reaction to sumac that is. Yikes!! Yay for Reid getting up on skis, that’s amazing!!

  4. Leave a Reply

    Trevor aka The Burger Nerd
    August 5, 2014

    Very cool drink recipe and glad you didn’t end up like the guy in the picture. Nature is pretty amazing…gives you one version of something that’s delicious, and a twin version that will kill you. Anywhooo, as always a fun and fact filled article about something I didn’t know about. Cheers!

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 5, 2014

      Now you’ve got me all paranoid thinking about the evil versions of things (pretty sure the evil twin of beer is tequila, BTW). Thanks for popping in, Burger Nerd and everyone else. It really does feel like seeing old friends when I see your names pop up with a comment in my inbox.

  5. Leave a Reply

    Joanna @ Midwestern Bite
    August 6, 2014

    The steeping sumac sure is pretty! I’m freaked out by plants that look like poisonous plants. We have black raspberries and their leaves look a lot like poison ivy (I guess my husband already told you that). And it totally freaks me out. I don’t pay nearly as much attention to what he says as he thinks I do . . .

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 8, 2014

      To be fair, I find that husbands tend to cloak useful advice in lots of extraneous information about WD-40 and tire pressure and things like that. It’s easy to lose sight of the beneficial information.

      And I’m totally jealous of your black raspberries. We have blackberries, and they’re okay, but extremely puckersome. I just made that word up, but it is entirely appropriate.

  6. Leave a Reply

    August 13, 2014

    I love the look of the drink, and it’s always neat when you can make a beverage from scratch. Making food is one thing, but I get fascinated by people making drinks. 🙂

  7. Leave a Reply

    August 15, 2014

    Can I just say how excited I am to try this. Everyone around here is all spooky about sumac being poisonous….and it’s totally the safe stuff. I’m about to blow their minds with this awesome sauce. Thanks from the farmers wife in Kansas. 😉

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 16, 2014

      So nice to meet you, Farmer’s Wife! Glad I could help you freak out your friends and family! 🙂

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