Sumac Lemonade

(Rhus copallina)

This attractive small tree grows all over Florida and at the 40 acre woods.

Sumac turns bright red in the fall before losing its leaves.  The flowers are yellow and green and small, in cone-shaped clusters at the end of branches. Fruits are BB sized red/pink berries with hairs and are covered with malic acid, which is what makes grapes and apples tart. Inside the berry is one small seed that contains tannic acid. You know the berries are ripe when they have a tart taste. (Touch your finger to a berry then your finger to your tongue to test, but not right after a rain, which washes off the malic acid.

Soak the unwashed berries in faucet-hot water releases the acid to make a drink, after being filtered to get rid of little hairs and loose berries (through cloth then a coffee filter)  The Cherokee Indians called the juice Quallah.  The seeds of the sumac have tannic acid in them. Putting the berries in boiling will release the tannic acid.  It can make a tea but it can quickly become too bitter to drink.  To make an ade, use one to two cups of berries per quart of water.  The “bobs” of berries can be cut off and dried for later use.

Sumac flowers in June/July in north Florida and fruit can ripens in August/September.  The fruit often lasts through winter.  Birds eat the berries and deer nibble on the branches.  I like to put a bunch of berries in my water bottle while walking in the woods for the lemony taste.

Make sure the Sumac has red/pink berries in cone-shaped clusters at the end of branches. They will have skinny leaves and like dry areas, not wet.

The Sumac is a great tree to have in the 40 acre woods.


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