Wild Edibles: Sumac Shoots
Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.
In one of my earlier articles on wild edibles I wrote about how to make sumac lemonade from the Staghorn (or Smooth) Sumac. In this post I want to share another food source from this wonderful plant – the peeled shoots.
How to Identify Staghorn or Smooth Sumac
The first step before eating any wild edible is to positively identify it. Here are the four key items to look for in order to positively identify staghorn and smooth sumac (taken from my previous article):
- Compound Toothed Leaves: Both species have pinnately compound leaves with serrated edges.
- Unique Stems and Twigs: Staghorn sumac has velvet (hairy) twigs and smooth sumac has no hair but instead a fine white powder that is easily removed when touched.
- Red Fruit Clusters: Since poison sumac has white berries (green early in the season), if you see the red one’s you’re safe. See the following pictures of the two varieties.
- Milky Sap: Both varieties exude a milky sap when broken
Just to see the contrast, here’s a picture of poison sumac fruit cluster and leaves (notice they are smooth and not serrated). Stay away from this plant:
How to Eat Sumac Shoots
Most wild-edible foragers are familiar with using sumac for the lemonade-like beverage you can make from it, however few know about the other important edible it provides: the peeled shoots.
I first learned of eating sumac shoots from Samuel Thayer’s wonderful book, The Forager’s Harvest (highly recommended btw). From his book,
Sumac shoots are largest and best in their first year growing as suckers or stump sprouts, but you can also collect the tips of the branches from older plants. The portion of the new growth that bends and snaps easily will make a good vegetable. (Examine the thick end of the shoot to see if it has developed noticeable, light-colored pith. If it has, that part is too old; break off a few inches until the shoot is solid and opaque green all the way through.)
|Here’s a picture of the new growth that appears on the end of an older sumac plant. The newer growth (in staghorn sumac) will have little hairs whereas the old growth will be woody (not seen in photo).|
|If you break open the new growth you’ll see a solid green green center all the way through. This is the part you want to eat.|
|If you break open the new growth and see a white pithy center, then it is too old and you’ll want to work your way toward the end of the branch until it is solid green.|
|After you’ve broken off your pieces of solid new growth, begin preparing it for eating by peeling the bitter, tender bark. It should peel away almost effortlessly.|
|Now that you’ve collected a decent amount, you can eat them raw (very tasty) or cook them up and enjoy!|