The Making Of: Rhus Juice

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This short article chronicles my 1st attempt at making Rhus Juice! Rhus Juice (also known as Sumac-ade, Indian Lemonade, Rhus-ade, Sumac Lemonade, & Sumac Tea) is a drink, reminiscent of lemonade, that is flavored by the berries of the Sumac. I believe that I used berries from the Smooth Sumac, which is native to my part of the country. Other parts of the country will have better access to the Staghorn Sumac or other species of Sumac.

Sumac is easy to identify because of its unique torch shaped berry clusters. In his book, Forager's Harvest, Samuel Thayer goes into detail about identifying and consuming Sumac. His book gave me my inspiration to try this one out. He recommends picking the berries in August for optimal flavor, although notes that good clusters can sometimes be found until October.

In late September, whilst driving, via a route I rarely take, I noticed a Sumac on the roadside about 1 mile from my house. Several days later my girlfriend & I took a walk out to that Sumac plant and picked some berry clusters. Thayer suggests 6-8 average sized clusters for a pitcher of Rhus Juice. I made 1/2 a pitcher using 1 large, 1 average, and 3 small clusters. I would have picked more but the plant MAY have been at the edge of someone's property, by their driveway, and I didn't want to strip all the attractive berry clusters. Besides, I just wanted to try it out. Another note, is that rain will wash away the tartness of the berries. As I picked mine late I decided to let them sit in the cold water a bit longer (Thayer suggests "a while", a page on the web I found suggests "30-60 mins", I let mine sit for 4 hours) to try and extract whatever flavor I could.

Making Rhus Juice

  1. Collect 6-8 average size berry clusters.
    Rhus Juice 1.jpg

  2. Place the clusters in a bowl/pitcher of coldwater, crush them up with your hands a bit, and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Be sure to use cold water. If you use hot (or boiling) water the water will leach tannins out of the stems which will turn your drink bitter.
    Rhus Juice 2.jpg

  3. Strain the contents into a pitcher.
    Rhus Juice 3.jpg

  4. The result should be a clear, pink, liquid. I recommend tasting it at this stage as it is pretty good on its own.
    Rhus Juice 4.jpg

  5. Add Sugar (I used a 1/2 cup for 1/2 a pitcher of Rhus Juice)
    Rhus Juice 5.jpg

  6. Taste & Enjoy! I really like Rhus Juice and plan on making it again next year. I hope to pick the berries earlier which should impart a stronger flavor to the drink.

That's all there is too it! Rhus Juice is extremely easy, & fun, to make and tastes really good. Thayer notes that you can freeze highly concentrated Rhus Juice (made by using several cycles of berries in the same water) to enjoy year round.