Health benefits of Sumac

Health benefits of Sumac

Ever come across a lemony flavoured spice used in mediterranean cookery? You may call it Persian red spice or lemon spice, but this lemony Mediterranean spice is actually powder of red berries of sumac plant.

Sumac herb is name of flowering plant of genus Rhus. As against its cousin – poison ivy, Sumac is perfectly non poisonous. It is native to Mediterranean areas, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, and parts of the Middle East, notably Iran.

What are different sumac varieties? The staghorn sumac is common variety of edible sumac herb. Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is another edible sumac species found in parts of US. There are some sumac varieties – like poison sumac – which are inedible. Staghorn sumac is easily identifiable with bright red velvety cone on tip of branches. In contrast, poison sumac would have cluster of white berries and roundish leaves. Sumac word originates from “sumaga”, meaning red in Syriac.

What are sumac berries? Fruits of sumac plant form dense clusters of reddish berries, which are also called as sumac bobs. Individual sumac berries are small and around centimeter diameter with hairy texture.

What is sumac spice? Sumac spice is actually powder of dried sumac berries. When ground, sumac powder looks very much like paprika, but offers amazing tangy punch. Sumac spice powder is often mixed with salt.

Sumac is also known by other names like: Elm-leafed Sumac; gewürzsumach (German); kankrasing (Sumac in Hindi); shumac; Sicilian sumac; somagh (Farsi); sommacco (Italian); soumaki (Greek); sumac (French); sumac, Somak (Turkish); sumaq (Hebrew); summaq (Arabic); zumaque (Spanish).

Sumac berries contain mainly water soluble extract containing Vitamin C and other vitamins, protein, fiber and Minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus. Nearly 4% of sumac by weight includes tannins. Its tangy flavor is result of high acid content and because of malic acid, gallic acid, citric acid, fumaric acid and ascorbic acid present in berries. Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Phosphorous are minerals found in good amounts in Sumac berries.

Health benefits of Sumac

Sumac has been used across globe for its medicinal properties and uses. Various parts of Sumac plant has been used as cure of various ailments in medieval medicine, summary of same is as below:

  • Sumac Leaves – Infusion of sumac leaves is used for treating asthama, diarrhea and stomach disorders. A poultice of sumac leaves is used to treat skin rash, sore gums and sore lips.
  • Sumac berries – Decoction of sumac berries used to treat diabetes, constipation, women disorders, coolant, bed wetting, other bladder disorders,
  • Sumac flowers – Decoction of sumac flowers used to treat flatulence, indigestion, eye wash
  • Sumac bark and roots – Infusion used as tonic, treat fever, increase breast milk in feeding mothers, treat haemorrhoids
  • Sumac berries – Treat cough, asthma, fever, diabetes, ulcer, pain

Research has showed that health benefits of sumac are many, some being antifungal, anti microbial, anti oxidant, anti inflammatory. Extract of Sumac / Sumak and various bio active compounds which has potential health benefits and other food and industrial uses. Research is still ongoing in understanding full potential and health benefits of sumac. Some of the health benefits of sumac are given below:

Sumac – a superfood? Sumac is full of Vitamin C and other phytochemcials which are strong antioxidant in nature. They help ward of free radicals in body and thus protect body from degenerative diseases including cardiovascular diseases, stroke and diabetes. Results of lab studies confirm strong antioxidant properties of various parts of sumac. Sumac can potentially be used in treating hypertension and degenerative cardiac disorders.

Anti inflammatory properties of Sumac – Inflammation in body results many disorders including fever, arthritis, skin inflammation, respiratory disorders, bronchitis and others. Lab results confirm that sumac and its extract have good anti-inflammatory properties. It is helpful in treating common cold, flue, arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.

Skin protective properties of sumac – With its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, sumac is helpful in treating skin problems and heals wounds. Chewed sumac leaves can be applied to skin rashes, inflamed gums and sore lips.

 [Read more: Home remedies for allergy]

Sumac benefits: Anti microbial – Sumac has anti microbial properties. A study published in International Journal of Food Microbiology suggested sumac’s antimicrobial activity that can combat Salmonella bacteria. Water mixed with sumac extract can be used to treating vegetables and fruits and get rid of bacteria on them. Anti microbial properties of sumac were attributed to presence of methyl gallic acid, gallic acid and other compounds in a study published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Traditionally powdered sumac bark is used as antiseptic. A research published in German bioscience journal, Zeitschrift Fuer Naturforschung, showed that seeds of sumac are effective against Aspergillus fungus which causes lung infection and infection to other organs. Another lab study confirm aqueous fragrant sumac extract is effective in controlling herpes simplex virus, suggesting potential strong antiviral activity

Sumak protects heart and liver – High cholesterol is common reason for heart and liver disorders. Lab based studies on rats suggest that sumac berries extract reduces blood cholesterol levels . This is beneficial for protection heart and liver in case of high cholesterol.

Rhus for diabetes – Research further suggests that sumac is effective in case hyperglycemia, diabetes and obesity.  Lab results have shown that sumac with its strong antioxidant properties help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

[Read more about Natural food for diabetes]

Sumac health benefits – Diuretic : Sumac berries have diuretic properties. It aids in production of urine and helps in excretion of toxic materials from the body. It is used to cure inflammation of the bladder and painful urination. It is often used in bowel complaints. In Middle East, sour Sumac juice is used to relieve stomach upset. Sumac berries are chewed as traditional remedy for bed wetting.

Anticancer properties – Some research is also carried on its anti tumour properties. In one study, edible staghorn sumac fruit extract, used along with chemotherapeutic drug, treated breast cancer cells while no effects on other healthy cells. Thus Sumac extract was considered promising chemotherapeutic drug conjugate in cancer chemotherapy.

Sumac benefits for women – Traditionally infusion of sumac bark/rooks or sumac tea is used as cure for women disorders. Sumac is externally applied in case of excessive vaginal discharge. It helps in increasing secretion of breast milk. It has estrogen like behavior and helps in treating menstrual disorder, menstrual cramps.

Sumac tea is effective cure for women disorders. Click To Tweet

To summarize, health benefits of sumac can be mainly attributed to its anti microbial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

How To Use Sumac / Sumak

Are sumac berries edible? Yes, sumac berries are perfectly edible. They taste tangy lemony in flavor. Shoots of smooth sumac are edible and were used by native Indians in salads. Young shoots are peeled and inside white core can be eaten raw. It has strong aroma, perfume-ish and astringent taste.

sumac tea

Sumac is used to make tangy cool drink known as sumac-ade or Indian lemonade or rhus juice. Sumacade is made by soaking sumac drupes in cool water, recovering extract and adding sweetner. Quallah is juice made by Cherokee Indians from sumac berries. Sumac berries are soaked in hot water overnight and later stained to get quallah. Sumac Tea – is seasonal herbal tea made from sumac berries. Freshly harvested sumac berries steeped in hot water overnight results in pink coloured herbal tea. Tangy sumac tea offers good way of utilizing its health benefits for improving heart, kidney and liver functions.

Native Americans mixed Sumac leaves and drupes along with tobacco in their smoking mixtures.

Dried Sumac spice is widely used as condiment in cooking. Sumac fish is popular recipe of grilled fish marinated with sumac spice powder. Sumac spice forms key ingredient in Persian cooking. Ground sumac spice blends well with vegetables, meat, chicken and fish. It is used as souring agent in topping for making fattosh salad and hummus dips. In Iran, sumac is added to rice or kebab. Turkish döner kebab are incomplete without sumac. Popular Jordanian spice mixture za’atar contains sumac along with sesame and thyme. Similarly Lebanese cuisine employs sumac effectively. Sumac juice is used for salad dressings and marinades.

The sumac seeds contain oil which is used to make candle wax.

How to make sumac spice powder – Wash and sun dry red sumac cones. Once dry rub to remove dry berries. Allow them to dry further. Coarsely grind such that seeds inside do not blend. Seive out seeds and discard. Grind remaining sumac bran to coarse powder. Dry roast the mixture and store in air tight container.

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There are 10 comments for this article
      • Tarcísio Ramos at 6:08 pm

        I foraged 10 Sumac flower head. It is free, just keep your eyes pilled for the striking red flower(it is easy to identify it with some key identification), it is very distinct. I made a tea this morning, taste pretty good!

    • Cheryl at 9:48 pm

      I don’t know if you can buy it at a health store but you can likely find it growing in the wild. I have lived in Virginia and Colorado and have seen it many times in both states and states in between. The berry heads are dark red and upright clusters. You can just pick a few and place them in cold water to sit for a few days and make your own for free. Please reference a field guide or look at more pics online to be sure you are picking the right plant. I just made some sumac aid today and am enjoying for the first time. It is very lemony and I like to drink it hot with a little honey.

  1. Mike Krebill at 8:14 pm

    Know three people that wound up in a hospital emergency room after coming in contact with one of the red sumacs (smooth or staghorn – in these instances). Anyone that is extremely allergic to any members of the Anacardiaceae Family (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, smooth sumac, staghorn sumac, winged sumac, cashew, mango, pistachio, etc.) needs to stay away from the “safe” red sumacs.

  2. Mike Krebill at 9:43 am

    There are lots of websites (including this one), plus books and magazine articles that say sumac is high in Vitamin C. Where is the scientific proof from laboratory studies?

  3. Keith Lilly at 9:05 pm

    I foraged for sumac two days ago and to me taste more like Tea . I enjoy it with my breakfast to start my day. There is a big difference in the poison sumac and the red sumac. The poison sumac has white berries that droops down But even with the red sumac take a little to see how your body will react to it

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