Sumac Spice used in Persian cooking

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Sumac ~ Sumaugh

Plant family:

Rhus coriaria - the family Anacardiaceae

Qualities:

Rather tart and astringent in taste, sumac is often referred to as a "souring agent."

Origins:

Sumacs grow in subtropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world, especially in North America.

It is a good idea to be wary of poison sumac, also known as poison oak, but you have nothing to fear from sumac the spice. Although the two are related, sumac the spice is derived from the berry of a plant called Rhus coriaria. The name refers to the word corium, Latin for leather, as the leaves and bark are used in the tanning process. This shrubby tree grows wild in the Middle East and parts of Italy. The brick-red fruits are sold as dried coarsely ground or whole berries. The spice is also known as "Sicilian sumac," "sumaq" or "sumach," and other similar variations.

The drupes of the genus Rhus are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat.

In North America, the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), are sometimes used to make a beverage, termed "sumac-ade" or "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it.

Native Americans also used the leaves and berries of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.

Also used extensively for food and medicine. Young shoots and roots are peeled and eaten raw. The fruit is also eaten raw, cooked or made into a lemonade-like drink.

The active constituents in Sumac are being studied for use in many diseases some possible applications are in the treatment of TB, diabetes, and some cancers. The plant contains Calcium malate, Dihydrofisetin, Fisetin, Iodine, Gallic-acid-methylester, tannic and gallic acids, Selenium, Tartaric-acid, and many beneficial minerals.

An infusion of the bark or roots is alterative, antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic, rubefacient and tonic. It is used in alternative medicine for the treatment of colds, diarrhea, fevers, general debility, to increase the flow of breast milk, sore mouths and throats, rectal bleeding, inflammation of the bladder and painful urination, retention of urine and dysentery and is applied externally to treat excessive vaginal discharge, burns and skin eruptions.

The powdered bark is made into a good antiseptic salve. An infusion of the leaves is used for asthma, diarrhea and stomatosis. A poultice of the leaves used to treat skin rashes. The leaves also chewed for sore gums and rubbed on sore lips. An infusion of the berries is diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, purgative and refrigerant. It is used in the treatment of late-onset diabetes, constipated bowel complaints, febrile diseases, dysmenorrhoea (painful or difficult menstruation). The berries have been chewed as a remedy for bed-wetting.

An infusion of the blossoms used as an eye wash for sore eyes. The milky latex from the plant is used as a salve on sores. When broken or cut the plant produces a milky substance which forms a solid gum-like body or gall, containing large quantities of tannic and gallic acid. These galls are used in tanning leather.

A medicinal wine can also be prepared from them. An oil extracted from the seeds is used in making candles. Brown, red, and black dye are obtained from the berries, said to be excellent for wool.

Special Warning:

It is a good idea to be wary of poison sumac, also known as poison oak, but you have nothing to fear from sumac the spice.