I am cheating slightly with this week’s post.
I hope you’ll forgive me.
I’d already posted about finding female staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) during the winter, since the lack of leaves on surrounding trees made it easier to spot the fruit clusters clinging to the ends of the branches.
Honestly, I thought that was the point to foraging staghorn sumac, because most other resources only talk about the berries, and using them for seasoning or “sumac-ade”.
This was disappointing to me, because I have several random sumac plants growing in the less-well-tended areas of my yard. But they are all male and therefore of no interest to foragers.
Or are they? (Cue dramatic music in the background.)
Recently I (re-)read The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and he thinks sumac shoots are not just edible, but downright delicious.
The best way to get staghorn sumac shoots is from the stumps that remain when you try cutting the plants down. The sumac will send new suckers out from the stump, and these are the ideal parts of the plant to eat, according to Thayer. Once the bark is peeled, they can be eaten straight, just as they are. He describes the flavor as fruity.
So in addition to the female plants, I am now on the lookout for male ones as well. Staghorn sumac stands out in winter by its very bare, sparse appearance. The plant does not have any twigs or small branches. Younger plants may not have any branches at all. In this photo, you can see the stark contrast between the staghorn sumacs and the tree to the right with its multitude of branches and twigs.
The bark is smooth gray with light speckles, with periodic rounded crescent shapes where the leaf clusters of the previous year had been attached.
One word of caution: Thayer also mentions that sumac is in the same family as cashews and mangoes, so anyone who is allergic to those foods may have a reaction to sumac as well. I had not read that warning before, so thought it wise to pass along.
Since I am not one of the unfortunate souls allergic to mango or cashews, I will definitely try the shoots later this year and let you all know if they are as amazing as Thayer makes them sound! The shoots are available in late spring or early summer, so I am guessing around June in Maryland. Stay tuned!