The deep red velvet berries of sumac begin to appear along roadsides and lush meadows in early August, and bloom late into fall. Each cone of berries contains beneficial minerals, is high in vitamin C and good for the immune system. Sumac has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The Chippewa tribe makes a decoction of sumac for smooth digestion. The Iroquois still use the roots and berries as a diuretic and a gentle way to cleanse the liver. Early settlers used sumac as a way of reducing fevers and cooling down in the warm summer evenings.
Sumac tastes of late summer sun with a hint of lemon, and leaves you feeling cooled and refreshed. A long-standing tradition of using the berries in a sun tea or lemonade exists in North America. In the summer you can find front porches glimmering with glass jars of liquid amber left to steep in the sun. No picnic or creek dip is complete without it, and its tart taste begins to speak of the coming autumn.
Sumac Sun Lemonade and Sumac Simple Syrup Recipes
To make this sumac sun tea, forage 12-15 sumac cones, filling a clear glass gallon-sized jar. Add fresh water to the rim. Place in a warm, sunny spot for 2-3 days to steep. Strain the deep amber, red tea through a cheesecloth, strainer or paper filter. Enjoy this tangy, lemony tea over ice with a sprig of fresh mint or a slice of lemon.
Sumac simple syrup is easy to make and can be stored for use in both cocktails and desserts. It is a delicious addition to traditional buttercream, as it complements the flavors of this golden lemon cake. Simple syrup can be made by boiling 1 cup of water, then adding 1 cup of sugar. Stir until all the sugar granules are dissolved. Next, add 4-5 sumac cones. You may need to break up the berries to immerse in the syrup. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Cover and steep for 2-3 hours, as it cools.