A Delicious Drink Few People Get to Enjoy
Whether you call it sumac lemonade, sumacade, or something else, you'll find the lemonade-like drink made from the fruit of smooth sumac to be tasty and refreshing. The fruit looks like berries but is really pyramidal clusters of thinly coated seeds. Pick the fruit when it's fully ripe - sometime in July or August - and has turned dark red. The drink is supposed to be tart, like lemonade, but will be too bitter if you pick the fruit too early.
How to Use Smooth Sumac Fruit
To make the drink, pick about a half-dozen fruit clusters and put them in a pitcher with cold water. Crush the fruit slightly. The longer you let it steep, the stronger the drink will be, so test it occasionally. You may want to add sugar. Strain out the seeds by pouring the liquid through cheesecloth. Then enjoy it just like lemonade.
It's Easy to Grow Smooth Sumac
Smooth sumac is a large shrub or small tree that will reach 10-20 feet in height. It is a native plant found throughout the Eastern United States in zones 3-9. In the wild, smooth sumac typically spreads to form colonies. Besides people, the fruit attracts berry-eating birds, including cardinals, eastern bluebirds, purple finches, and even wild turkeys. Grown as an ornamental specimen, it tolerates a wide range of growing conditions and will stand up to both cold winters and hot, dry summers. It requires minimal care, but prune it annually and remove sprouts to contain its growth and spreading. You can find saplings for sale online or at native-plant sales at local nature centers and conservancies.
See our article on planting trees
Colorful Leaves and Fruit
The leaves of smooth sumac are groups of 11-31 leaflets attached in two rows along a stem. They are shiny green in summer and turn brilliant red in early fall. Yellow-green flowers appear in early to mid-summer, followed by the red fruit clusters.