Natural Healing: Snack on Sumac Berries


| November/December 2002


Recipes:

One man’s pest is another man’s pearl. Dandelion root and flowers may be considered pesky weeds. Nettles may seem like the most unlikely side dish. The sumac bush may look like just another roadside shrub. To the resourceful, all of these plants are both food and medicine.

Cooks from many countries, including Turkey, Italy, and Israel, have revered sumac berries (Rhus spp.) for more than a thousand years. And yet, the fruits are hardly something to make a meal or snack of; they are smaller than gooseberries, contain almost as much pit as fruit, and have very little fragrance. They aren’t even sweet! What sumac berries do have going for them is a brilliant brick-to purple-burgundy color, a tart and tangy taste, and a bushel full of therapeutic applications.

Soothing medicine

Sumac leaves and berries are classified as astringent and cooling. Certain Native American and Canadian Indian tribes used sumac to treat bladder, digestive, reproductive, and respiratory ailments; infections; injuries; stomachaches; arrow wounds; and more. The Chippewa Indians of North America made a decoction of sumac flowers to treat gas, indigestion, and other digestive upsets. The Iroquois used sumac as a laxative, diuretic, expectorant, liver aid, and in countless other applications. The powdered bark and dried berries were allegedly combined with tobacco and smoked during peace pipe ceremonies. The inner bark was also used to treat hemorrhoids.

Early pioneers used the berries to reduce fevers, and they steeped and strained the berries and thickened the mixture with honey to yield a soothing cough syrup. Some transformed the berries into wine. Others used the root to produce an emetic tea (to induce vomiting), the bark to make dye, and the leaves to relieve symptoms of asthma.

Sumac berries contain malic acid, which possess antifungal properties and putative anti-fibromyalgic activity; tannic acid, which is present in tea and wine and is known for its astringent activity; and gallic acid, a white crystalline compound used in dyes, in photography, and in ink and paper manufacture.





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