Midwestern Wanderlog

2016-06-27 – Useful Sumac

I miss my freedom.  I miss the days when Mondays were no different from Sundays.  And I’ll have that again, mark my words.  But there’s a great deal of work to be done between now and then.  Just have to create enough sustainability of income that I can remain removed from the regular work force and keep building my own business.

Sunrise Stats!
First light: 4:51 AM
Sunrise: 5:28 AM
Daylight: 16 hrs, 45 min

So, yesterday walking back from the overlook, I was struck by the sight of the sumac grove at the crest of the bluff right above the stairs.  They’re in flower right now, and extremely pretty.  They’ll be even prettier in the fall when the leaves start changing color!

There are about 35 different species of the sumac (genus Rhus), and they’re found pretty much worldwide, but particularly in east Asia, Africa, and North America.  They like subtropical to temperate climates, and for all that they look like an tall ugly shrub – or stunted tree – they’re actually very useful.

In the Middle East, the fruits are ground as a spice or used as a garnish.  In some places the fruits are added to rice, kebab or salad.  In North America, the berries of the smooth sumac and stagorn sumac are soaked and rubbed in cool water to make a drink called rhus juice, sumacade, or Indian lemonade.  The fruits of smooth and staghorn sumacs have also been combined with tobacco in traditional Native American smoking mixtures.

The pith of the stems have been used in pipe making.  The wood itself has bands ranging from yellow to olive-green, which can make for some very pretty bowls, or add unique accents to rustic chairs.  And let’s not forget dyes and tanning agents!  Leather tanned with sumac turns out lightweight and flexible, as well as light in color.  In Science Club back in high school, we used both walnuts and sumac berries to tie-dye T-shirts, and the sumac turned the shirts a rich shimmery brown.

One caution, though – don’t get sumac dust near marble.  Apparently it doesn’t do any visual harm… until it gets wet.  At that point, it stains the stone purple, and the stain penetrates deep below the surface.

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