Staghorn Sumac

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Staghorn SumacThe Staghorn Sumac is native to Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Appalachian regions of the United States. Native Americans used the fruit for many medicinal uses, including an astringent, control for vomiting, and a tempering agent for fever, stomach pains, urinary ailments, and sore throats. The root was chewed to ease swollen and infected gums; sumac compresses were applied to burns, cuts, bleeding, and swelling; and it was smoked in a tobacco blend. Most of all, the fruit was used by the Algonquin, the Menominee, the Cherokee, the Ojibwa, and the Potawatomi either fresh or dried for winter storage. The dried sumac was used to create a lemonade-like beverage by submerging the fruit cluster in a bowl of water, letting it steep, wringing it by hand, and straining it to remove residue, for a refreshing, healthful tonic.

The Staghorn Sumac, also known as the Velvet Sumac, is a 15-30 ft. tall, dense, colony-forming, deciduous shrub/small tree with crooked, leaning trunks, velvety twigs, and forked branches that resemble stag's antlers. The leaves are lemon-scented, a break of the stout twigs exudes a white sap, and the ripened red fruit have a tangy, clean flavor. It is fast-growing, generally pest- and disease-free, and drought-tolerant. Staghorn is an ornamental plant that boosts the vitality of the natural landscape, benefits native birds and beneficial insect species, serves as important winter food for wildlife, and provides pollen, nectar, and nesting areas. Two important things to know about Staghorn Sumac: despite the similar name, Staghorn is not closely related to Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), which bears white, not red, fruit clusters; and sumac is botanically related to cashews and mangoes, so those with allergies to these foods should avoid it.

Sumac can also be used as a natural dye, provides tanneries with a natural tanning agent, and is a popular ornamental choice in landscape design because of its year-round vitality, whether in an urban or suburban setting, industrial or on the edge of the forest. Where the soil is thin and too dry for larger trees, the Staghorn is resilient even when exposed to pollution. The Staghorn spreads well, stabilizing and rehabilitating disturbed habitats. Along with herbaceous annuals and perennials, the Staghorn can re-vegetate mined, industrialized, and stripped sites.

Because of Staghorn's reputation of very rapid spread, municipalities, farmers, and landowners have tried to either eradicate or control Staghorn sites with chemical herbicides - a misaligned use of both money and labor. Another factor pushing the eradication of Staghorn Sumac is its misidentification as an invasive plant named the Tree of Heaven (Simaroubaceae).

In 2015, Tama Matsuoka Wong, a conservation-minded professional forager, had begun to supply Staghorn and other species of sumac to a number of establishments in the New York City and Philadelphia area, creating a renaissance of appreciation for the unique flavor of the indigenous Staghorn Sumac.

Photo by Daniel Fuchs is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 Available: Wikimedia Commons

Photos of Staghorn Sumac

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Wendy Wildcraft

  Rochdale, MA

I grow my herbs without the use of chemicals, harvest some sustainably from the wild, purchase some from my local nurseries, and the rest come from an organic supplier. I sell my herbal products online, at fairs, and in select local stores. Please note herbs I grow and wildcraft sell very quickly. (more...)

Warner River Produce

  Webster, NH

Warner River grows year-round in Webster and Henniker and seasonally at St Pauls School, Hopkinton and Henniker. Warner River Produce is no longer a USDA certified organic producer of herb, flower, veggie spring transplants and microgreens. (more...)

Unadilla Community Farm

  West Edmeston, NY

Unadilla Community Farm is a non-profit off-grid solar-powered education center following the principles of organic agriculture, regenerative agroforestry, and permaculture design. Unadilla Community Farm was founded in 2014 by a group of WWOOFers (volunteers working on organic farms) dedicated to the goals of the back-to-the-land movement. (more...)

Sylvan Meadows Farm

  viroqua, WI

Sylvan Meadows Farm offers a wide diversity of products! 100% grassfed lamb & beef, pastured pork, fruits & vegetables, flowers & herbs, meadows & trees are interwoven into a living tapestry. Our farm testifies to the Creator's goodness and we steward to His glory! (more...)

Stormbrew Farm

  Atkins, VA

Stormbrew Farm is nestled is the breathtaking Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia. We are located in Atkins, VA, a small town between Marion and Wytheville. Our main focus is sustainable vegetable and cut-flower production, but we also care for bees, laying hens, and goats. In the spring we grow seedlings for gardeners in the community. (more...)

Stillwater Valley Farm

  Jamestown, NY

We are young farmers who live on a historic, falling-apart old farm. It was previously farmed by at least 4 generations of family before us, but had been out of farming use for many years before we started again. We are now selling out of relatively new market house, which we have had in use for the past 4 seasons. (more...)