September 6, 2022 /
Christina Hester

Making Staghorn Sumac Lemonade

With so many DC plants coming into their harvest season, CT’s resident Horticulturist, Maddie Hoagland-Hanson and I went out into the field to harvest some ripe Staghorn Sumac berries.  

The staghorn sumac is a colony-forming, deciduous shrub with crooked, leaning trunks, picturesque branches and velvety twigs. On female plants, yellow-green flowers are followed by fuzzy, bright red berries in erect, pyramidal clusters which persist throughout winter. Although we can’t recommend eating the raw fuzzy berries, they do make a delicious lemonade! Follow along to learn about the entire process from harvest to tasty beverage. 

To begin our journey, Maddie and I went to a nearby CT Tree Yard to find the Staghorn Sumac. Since the plant likes undisturbed habitats, it’s commonly found in overgrown areas such as the edge of a forest or edge of a highway. After finding our plant and getting ready to harvest our berry bunches, Maddie noticed that growing in conjuncture with the Staghorn Sumac was a Porcelain Berry bush. While Maddie was incredibly proactive to tell me that the Porcelain Berries were poisonous, it was such a huge reminder that foraging is not for amateurs and that it could be extremely dangerous if someone goes in without the proper knowledge and expertise. But with Maddie at my side, I knew that I wouldn’t end up foraging for something that could make me sick. Thanks Maddie! 

After collecting our berries, it was time to make some lemonade! This was a fun and (relatively) easy process, all that you really need are the sumac berries and some everyday kitchen items. Following this recipe: 

  1. I placed the Sumac berries in a large pot, filled it with water until the berries were completely covered, from there I started to stir it up and make sure that water is soaking into the berries. 
  2. Next, I brought it to a simmer while continuously stirring and smushing the berries. Being sure not to bring it to a hard boil, I waited until steam was rising from the pot and I saw a fair number of bubbles coming to the surface – from there I turned off the stove and continued to stir/smush. 
  3. After getting as much from the berries as you can, allow the pot to sit for a while. The recipe suggested 20min – 1 hour, so I waited 45 minutes. 
  4. Once it’s done sitting, use your spoon or spatula again to stir up and smush the berries as much as possible.  
  5. After you’ve totally exhausted the berries and got everything out of them, it’s going to be time to strain your lemonade. I personally recommend straining the liquid at least twice, to be sure that your drink is clean and doesn’t contain any leftover dirt from being outside. First, I used a strainer to separate the liquid contents of the pot from the berries and then used coffee filters to filter the liquid into the pitcher. 
  6. If you’re like me and want to sweeten the deal, I used honey and lemon to bring out all the right flavors I was looking for. 

And I was done! To me, the end result is more of a tea than a lemonade, and the flavor is like an earthy, citrusy, deliciously refreshing raspberry-reminiscent tea. The process is quick and fun if you’re looking to have your very own farm to table type experience, but I definitely wouldn’t have been comfortable foraging if I didn’t have a professional at my side.  

Stay connected with us for more foraging content soon as seasons change, and things begin to ripen!