Wild Edibles: Sumac Shoots

by Erich

Disclaimer: Eating certain wild plants can be deadly!!

Be certain to consult a professional (or a really good field guide) in order to positively identify this plant before trying this for yourself. The owners of this site will not be held responsible for any lapses in judgment or stupidity when handling or consuming wild plants.

In one of my earlier articles on wild edibles I wrote about how to make sumac lemonade from the Staghorn (or Smooth) Sumac. In this post I want to share another food source from this wonderful plant – the peeled shoots.

How to Identify Staghorn or Smooth Sumac

The first step before eating any wild edible is to positively identify it. Here are the four key items to look for in order to positively identify staghorn and smooth sumac (taken from my previous article):

  1. Compound Toothed Leaves: Both species have pinnately compound leaves with serrated edges.
  2. Unique Stems and Twigs: Staghorn sumac has velvet (hairy) twigs and smooth sumac has no hair but instead a fine white powder that is easily removed when touched.




  3. Red Fruit Clusters: Since poison sumac has white berries (green early in the season), if you see the red one’s you’re safe. See the following pictures of the two varieties.
    Staghorn Fruit

    Staghorn Fruit

    Smooth Sumac Fruit

    Smooth Sumac Fruit

  4. Milky Sap: Both varieties exude a milky sap when broken sumac_milk

Just to see the contrast, here’s a picture of poison sumac fruit cluster and leaves (notice they are smooth and not serrated). Stay away from this plant:

How to Eat Sumac Shoots

Most wild-edible foragers are familiar with using sumac for the lemonade-like beverage you can make from it, however few know about the other important edible it provides: the peeled shoots.

I first learned of eating sumac shoots from Samuel Thayer’s wonderful book, The Forager’s Harvest (highly recommended btw). From his book,

Sumac shoots are largest and best in their first year growing as suckers or stump sprouts, but you can also collect the tips of the branches from older plants. The portion of the new growth that bends and snaps easily will make a good vegetable. (Examine the thick end of the shoot to see if it has developed noticeable, light-colored pith. If it has, that part is too old; break off a few inches until the shoot is solid and opaque green all the way through.)

Here’s a picture of the new growth that appears on the end of an older sumac plant. The newer growth (in staghorn sumac) will have little hairs whereas the old growth will be woody (not seen in photo).
If you break open the new growth you’ll see a solid green green center all the way through. This is the part you want to eat.
If you break open the new growth and see a white pithy center, then it is too old and you’ll want to work your way toward the end of the branch until it is solid green.
After you’ve broken off your pieces of solid new growth, begin preparing it for eating by peeling the bitter, tender bark. It should peel away almost effortlessly.
Now that you’ve collected a decent amount, you can eat them raw (very tasty) or cook them up and enjoy!
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Comment by Matt in Oklahoma
2011-06-28 18:37:24

Thats awesome! I’ve never eaten the shoots

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-06-28 20:04:23

Yeah, they really are tasty. To me they taste mildly sweet like carrot but with a consistency similar to celery but not quite as crunchy. Very good steamed as well.

Comment by Jason
2011-07-09 20:42:35

You keep surprising me. I have downloaded so many PDF files and books and all that about wild edibles and yet you seem to have things that nobody else does. One thing I want to know more about, as it is widely available, being a nuisance plant, is the Japanese Knotweed. Do you know anything about this plant? I know it’s edible at a certain time and I hear it tastes like a hybrid asparagus/rhubarb, fresh, and just asparagus when cooked, but that’s all I know (as far as eating it goes, otherwise I know if your house is built on them they will grow through your floor).

Comment by Jason
2011-07-09 20:49:22

Oops, you have that one, too. . . should have known XD

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-07-11 17:23:13

No worries 🙂

Comment by Nolan
2012-03-05 18:02:17

I’m a newcomer to the site, but grew up in Poke Salet country. The mature plants are poisonnous, but the very young sprouts may be eaten… Won’t go into the procedure, but they are “fair to middlin.”

Comment by c2nk4eq663
2016-01-27 07:08:07

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Comment by Jake
2019-05-13 13:58:22

This is incorrect. Staghorn sumac is not poisonous .

Comment by Tyler
2020-06-12 20:08:56

What are you talking about? He never says staghorn sumac is poisonous. The only reference to poisonous plants is a picture of poison sumac for comparison.

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