Making sumac tea

Learn how to make sumac tea with youth to enjoy the benefits and delicious flavor.

Staghorn sumac during autumn. Photo: Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons.
Staghorn sumac during autumn. Photo: Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons.

The autumn season brings many delights that can only be enjoyed this time of year, such as the changing leaves, pumpkins, fresh apples, grouse hunting and much more. Many of these delights focus on wild edibles like mushrooms, grapes, various nuts, wild rice and persimmons, to name a few. Sumac is a wild plant that provides a nutritional drink and is easy to locate.

Sumac is a shrub or small tree that is common to much of the Great Lakes region and Michigan. Wild sumac is easily identified in autumn by its bright red compound leaves and cluster of red berries that form in a cone shape. These berries have a fuzzy look and feel. Don’t confuse this sumac with poisonous sumac, which has white berries and grows in wetlands. If you are concerned about proper identification, contact your local Michigan State University Extension county office or county forester for help.

The red berries on wild sumac can be put in your mouth to enjoy a tart burst of flavor. The berries have small hairs that give them a fuzzy appearance and make them unpleasant to ingest. If you choose to taste the berries, just spit them out after sucking on them. However, they make an excellent nutritious drink.

Sumac tea is easy to make, high in vitamin C and is delicious! Here is how to make this wonderfully nutritious drink that has a lemonade-type flavor:

  1. Pick several clusters of berries for use. You can slightly crush the berries to help aid in releasing their flavor.
  2. Soak the berry clusters in a pitcher of cold water over night or longer to enhance the flavor. Be sure to use cold water, as hot water can destroy the vitamin C content.
  3. Next, strain the tea through a coffee filter or cheese cloth to remove the berries and particles from the fruit so all you are left with is the tea.
  4. Enjoy! You can add sugar, honey or other additives of your choice to suit your palate.

Sumac is reported to have several medicinal benefits. American Indians used it to treat colds, fever and scurvy while also grinding the berries mixed with clay and using as a salve on open wounds. Sumac has also shown to have benefits for treating diarrhea, dysentery, sore throats, infections, asthma and cold sores. Sumac berries are also used in beekeeping smokers.

There are numerous wild edibles that can be harvested and enjoyed with youth. Making sumac tea is a particularly enjoyable activity for youth as they will have fun making the tea and reap the reward of their efforts by having a delicious drink to enjoy. The tea can be stored in the refrigerator to be enjoyed later and shared with friends.

Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers. Please contact me at for ideas on spending time outdoors with youth. 

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