Its harvest time! The fields are intense with the riches of the season as we head out to our favourite local haunts to forage for some of the treasures of early fall. This month we are foraging for sumac berries, which we use in our Blush Sugar Scrub.
Sumac (Rhus Glabra) is a shrublike tree native to subtropical and temperate climates of North America, East Asia and Africa, and can be found in abundance right here in Toronto and Southern Ontario. Inhabiting disturbed wastelands, fields, grasslands, and woodlands, sumac plays an important role in the ecosystem and in succession growth. Its beautiful, architectural foliage and bright crimson clusters of autumn berries mark the fall landscape. High in vitamin C, sumac is also rich in anti-oxidant properties, making it ideal for nourishing our skin.
The uses of sumac are varied. Medicinally, sumac’s astringent qualities are especially indicated for symptoms of diarrhea or hemorrhaging. In an infusion, the berries can be used as a mouthwash for ulcerations. It’s also used widely in Middle Eastern cuisine as a spice where an element of sour fruitiness is desired.
Foraging Tips: When collecting in the wild, only harvest the part of the plant that you will use to ensure that the plant will continue to thrive. In the case of sumac, only collect the heads, as there is no need to collect the entire branch. Wild sumac can be collected once they’ve ripened (usually late July), but before rain washes away the flavourful external coating. There are poisonous varieties as well, so make sure to have an experienced guide when harvesting, or purchase from a reputable supplier.
A fun and healthy way to enjoy a sumac harvest…
Sumac has a tart, citrusy flavour that lends itself well to many recipes that call for a bit of zest! Traditionally, Native Americans would make a vitamin C- rich drink known as “sumac lemonade” by infusing the berries in water. Here’s how to make your own version at home:
– Pick 5-6 clusters of sumac berries (from trees that haven’t been sprayed).
– Measure a few tablespoons of dried berries.
– Add the berries to a large glass jug, then crush slightly to break down the fruit.
– Cover with cool water (using hot water will destroy some of the health benefits and leech bitterness from the tannins in the bark).
– Let the pitcher stand in a sunny spot until the tea “brews” to the desired strength. Depending on your preference, the tea can be quite mild or sour (similar to lemonade).
– Strain the tea through cheesecloth to remove small bits of berries, fruit fuzz and stems. Sweeteners can be added to the brew to taste.
*Be careful with any new food or herb – consult your health practitioner for potential allergic reactions or cross-effects for medications.