Staghorn sumac and smooth sumac (Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra, respectively) are reliable edibles from summer through winter. The plant is easy to identify, but consult a good field guide or someone who knows their plants to make sure the plant you’re looking at is an edible sumac and not poison sumac. Once you see the plants side-by-side, though, you will see there is a big difference between the two.
The edible part of our sumac is the distinctive fruit cluster, which is prominent from summer through winter. The individual fruits are small, but the large heads make gathering them a breeze! Once you gather the heads you make a liquid concentrate from them, which can be used in beverages and in cooking. In winter, when the fruit clusters have seen better days, you’ll need more clusters to get the same effect as the clusters you collected in September, but the results will still be tasty and reminiscent of lemons!
There are two ways to make the concentrate but make sure you don’t use hot or boiling water in either method as hot water will release tannins, which are not so tasty:
In the kitchen, take several of the fruit clusters and put them in a blender filled with water. Zip the fruits with the water for a minute or so, then let it all sit for awhile (say 15 to 30 minutes). Strain the liquid through cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and the resulting concentrate can then be used in beverages, pies, and jams!
In the wild, you can still enjoy this plant. Take the fruit clusters and place them in a container full of cool water. Use your hands and rub the fruits vigorously to release the juice. Then you just need to strain out the debris and you have a tasty beverage when needed. You can warm the beverage and sweeten it if you desire, but many people like it unsweetened, too.