Rhus clan

Jack Rowe jackrowe at compuserve.com
Tue Apr 7 11:04:57 EDT 1998

Funny to be cooincidentally discussing such diverse members of the oddball
Rhus genus... R. radicans and toxicodendron (poison ivy and oak) and R.
glabra (smooth sumac). There are other red-berried, edible/medicinal sumacs
(dward, winged, trilobata) whose berries make a nice-tasting summer drink
with a little water and sugar. R. trilobata (mountains) and microphylla
(desert basins) both grow in arid lands and the tart berries are very good
for bringing saliva back to a parched mouth, and tasty to boot. Mighty
pretty in fall when colors change, and in winter when the red berry
clusters persist for quite a while (catch them early, before rains, for the
best 'lemon-ade').

Some spp will take a lot of moisture and I've even seen stands of staghorn
sumac growing in creek mud. Even the sumacs which tolerate drier conditions
tend to grow where subsoil moisture reservoirs exist, as in road borrow
ditches and on rocky hillsides (which look dry but 'most always have a huge
water reservoir inside them). 

According to Kelly Kindscher (Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie,
excellent book), roots and barks of edible spp. make an astringent tea for
treating diarrhea -- dried and powdered, they stop bleeding used externally
or internally. Teas of leaves or ground berries were drunk for colds and
flu. Settlers used gum from the trees to treat toothache, and research has
found a 'highly active antibiotic substance' in the tissues. The leaves
were smoked by Native Americans as a tobacco subsitute.

Poison sumac, R. vernix (looks like the red-berried sumacs in form but has
larger, white berries, grows in boggy areas), is another member of the
genus which causes a bad itching rash. I shared some sumac-ade I had in the
fridge with a friend from poison sumac country. He drank some and said
"Mmm, this is good, what is it?", then spit a mouthful across the kitchen
when I told him "Sumac". He almost slugged me before I could explain.


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