Along the Grapevine

Smooth Sumac – Rhus Glabra

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DSC02836I have written several posts on staghorn sumac, by far the most common of the red-berried shrubs in this area but by no means the only edible variety. When I accidentally stumbled upon another variety, rhus glabra or smooth sumac, I was interested in finding out just what the differences between the two types is.

First I discovered that this smooth variety is actually more common throughout North America than the staghorn. It is also reputed to be more tart. Both varieties ripen in the late summer, but can be picked well into the winter and are perfect for foraging at this time of year.

The bushes are bare of leaves, so you have to rely on the berries to identify them. The smooth variety looks very much like the staghorn, but without the fuzz on either the berries or the stems. Here are pictures of both for comparison.

DSC02841

Just as I was contemplating writing this post, I came across an article extolling the medicinal properties of the rhus glabra. While my purpose in foraging is purely culinary, it is still of considerable interest to learn about the health benefits of any of the ingredients I use from the wild and this article helped me understand just what a remarkable plant I was dealing with. It is a wonder that with so much of it around it still remains unharvested.

I treated it the same as I did with the staghorn sumac. I placed the entire drupes in the oven in a single layer at a low temperature (170 degrees F) for a couple of hours until thoroughly dried. Then I remove as many berries as can be easily scraped off with a knife. These berries get finely ground in a spice or coffee mill, then passed through a sieve leaving a citrusy powder which can be used in everything from soup to nuts!

rhus glabra powder

Smooth Sumac on Punk Domestics

The remaining berries still attached to the drupes are placed in a large saucepan and covered with warm water and left to soak for about half an hour and then strained. In order to extract as much of the flavour and volume as possible, I give them a second soak in boiling water. This liquid can be used to make tea or sumac ‘lemonade’ which is the way it was most often used in these parts in the past.

DSC02851Perhaps my favourite way of using the liquid is by making sumac mead, although I will be publishing another drink recipe within a couple of days which gives a whole new purpose to collecting this prolific plant.

Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

15 thoughts on “Smooth Sumac – Rhus Glabra

  1. I had no idea there are different versions of sumac, maybe this explains why they can be slightly different colours?

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  2. It’s amazing how you can recognize and differentiate between different plants and herbs. I never knew there are different kinds of sumac. You are very knowledgeable Hilda👍

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  3. I always learn some new botanical information, visiting your blog. In one of your previous sumac blog I may have said that sumac is very big in Persian cuisine. For sure it is at the dinning table when kababs are made.

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    • Thanks Fae. There are about 35 edible red sumac species, but it seems they are all pretty similar. Of course I got my inspiration from Persian and Middle Eastern cooking, and was pleased to find that our native species are also very good.

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  4. that is really interesting Hilda it is really nice to read your posts thank you for your time I have finally learned how to use the Reply I will see you soon

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  5. Every your post is discovery for me, Hilda! I do love sumac spice and never ever thought that there are different versions of it, even thought it’s very popular spice here… Is it grown near to your house?
    I’m also very glad that I’m co-hosting with you at FF!🙂

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    • Thanks Mila. Yes, we have loads of sumac. In fact I have to pull out dozens of small ones every year or it would just take over. Surprisingly though no one uses it which I think is a shame. I’m also pleased to be co-hosting with you – I will be in and out over the weekend as unlike our neighbours to the south we have lovely, mild weather and I am visiting Toronto, but I will be dropping in to the FF party at odd hours. See you there!

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  6. Pingback: Potato pizza-pie | milkandbun

  7. Pingback: Sumac Soda | Along the Grapevine

  8. Incredible Hilda! I had no idea about the varieties of sumac, nor that it could be found growing in North America. As Fae mentioned above, it was something I associated with the Middle East. The big clusters of berries look so pretty–what an incredible colour!

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  9. Yes, to me a mild lemon and berry flavour – perfect for baking.

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