Sumac Lemonade

One of my favorite late summer beverages is Sumac Lemonade.  It is made from the “berries” (actually they look like fuzzy mini flowers to me) called “drupes”.  They grow on the Staghorn Sumac tree, mature in August and look like deep red pods hanging on the tree branches.  They are very tart (just lick your hands after collecting them for a sour, lip puckering experience).


  • 1 Cup of Sumac “berries” (about 1 large cluster)
  • 2 cups water
  • Optional sweetener (honey, sugar, agave etc.)


  1. Rinse your sumac in cool water to remove any of the “outdoor elements” that might be clinging to them. Place sumac berries in cool/room temperature water. One large cluster of sumac will flavor a minimum of 2 cups of water. The more sumac you use, the quicker and more flavorful your ”Sumac-ade” will be!
  2. Crush the berry clusters in the water using a sturdy spoon (or even a potato masher if it will fit in your vessel). Allow the sumac to soak for at least a few hours or overnight, depending on how much sumac you used. The longer it soaks, the stronger the flavor, but with enough berries, an overnight soak will produce a very flavorful result.
  3. Strain your Sumac-ade through cheesecloth, coffee filter, or similar fine mesh fabric
  4. Once your Sumac-ade is strained, you can sweeten to taste with the sweetener of your choice. I prefer to stir in agave nectar or a good local honey, but most any sweetener will complement the tart flavor of the sumac. Serve chilled or over ice to toast the end of summer and arrival of autumn!


Note: Poison Sumac (left) looks nothing like Staghorn Sumac. The most obvious difference is that poison sumac has white berries, not red berries. The red fruits are a distinctive characteristic of staghorn sumac. Poison sumac berries are white, flattish, waxy and grow separately, while the red berries of staghorn sumac are fused together in clumps.