I remember building "forts" in sumac bushes.

In my younger days, when BMX's and foot tall Star Wars action figures were still king, we had to improvise a lot when it came to the spots we played in. Only the luckiest of kids had treehouses or whatnot. The rest of us would hack down sections of a bamboo patch, or deep under a stand of sumac bushes to build our hideouts.

Staghorn sumac or velvet sumac (Rhus typhina)
Getty Images/iStockphoto

I imagine kids still do that kind of thing, but back then we took it super seriously. You'd never dream of cleaning your room, but you'd think nothing of spending half a summer perfecting your outdoor sumac bush fort. As I got older, I realized that big old sumac bush was good for so much more than just a hiding spot during a mock kid war.

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In reality, those big red buds are not only edible, but tasty.

Most people have probably never given a second thought to that big, overgrown tree thing. I even know a bunch of people who've gone out of their way to get rid of them. But you may find they have a tasty use in your kitchen in all sorts of unexpected ways. It never ceases to amaze me how many things we can find to eat right in the yard, or by the side of the road.

So sumac is used at the dinner table as more of a spice. It's not like you roast the buds or anything like that, but it can be dried and ground up. At that stage it's great as a spice by itself, or you can throw it in marinades or spice rubs, or even in salad dressings. Flavor-wise, it's almost like peppery lemon.

Red sumac spice in ornate middle eastern bowl
Getty Images/iStockphoto

By the way...

This is not poison sumac. That's a whole different beast that looks similar, but doesn't have the pretty red buds, or stags, as they're called. You're safe to touch these plants, no fear.

It's also often boiled and made into a beverage. If served hot, it's kinda like a nice lemony cup of tea, and if you serve it chilled it's almost like a reddish lemonade. It's very diverse. And the best part is that it's free! It's either growing in your yard, or perhaps even on the side of the road. And, it's out right now. Go get some!

I wonder if sumac is actually on this list...

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