Friday, March 27, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

If you know what you are doing, you can expand your appreciation of nature to the sense of taste. This plant, for example, tastes like chicken. That is a lie. It really tastes like lemon. It is a plant called fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) which is a shrub about 5 or 6 feet tall and as wide or wider. Recently a dware version has been introduced called Gro Low sumac (Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low') that is only knee high and spread about 8 feet wide. These plants are closely related to the more commonly know small trees, staghorn sumac (Rhus typhinia) and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra). Sumacs are plants of the prairie and savanna, native to regions where oak savanna occurs, where they frequented the edge of the shade made by the mighty bur oak trees. The berries of all these sumacs have a sticky coating on them that tastes sour and lemony. You can put them in your mouth to suck the flavor off, you can touch the sticky with your fingers and lick the lemon off your fingers, or you can soak the seeds in water to make delicious 'lemonade' drink. The flavor is brightest and strongest when the berries are fresh in summer, but even into winter, the dried seeds still have some lemony goodness that can be soaked out. The later you use them, the more likely you are to need to strain out some bits of dried plant parts, but the flavor is still worth the work! Get out there and taste some nature!
Note: Added photo of staghorn sumac seed heads on 4-06-09. When I stopped the car to take the photo, there was a squirrel hanging onto one of the seed heads nibbling away at the seed coating! Must be plenty of flavor left even in April!

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