Sumac (Wu Bei Zi/Yan Fu Zi)
Botanical Name: Rhus typhina, R. hirta, R. coriaria, R. glabra
Sumac is a spice made from the sumac berries that is especially popular in Middle Eastern cooking. It has a lovely sour flavor and bright red color. (Note: poisonous white sumac is a different plant with white berries, not red ones and the commonly called Chinese Sumac (Wu Bei Zi) is actually a gallnut caused by the insect Maliphis and has yellow-green blossoms. These are each different plants though in the same Rhus family.) Sumac (Rhus typhina, R. hirta, R. coriaria, R. glabra) is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory herbs available. Rich in a wide variety of polyphenols and flavonoids, it helps lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce bone loss.
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Also Known As: Sumach, Sumak, Soumak, Sumaq, Staghorn Sumac, Elm-Leaved Sumac, Sicilian Sumac, Tanner’s Sumac, Forager’s Friend
Organs/Systems: Immune System, Heart, Digestive System, Kidneys
Key Actions: Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory, Diuretic, Astringent, Tonic, Antiseptic, Diaphoretic, Antibacterial
Medicinal Uses: Heart disease, lowers blood cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, muscle pain, reduce bone loss, diabetes, osteoporosis, fevers, open the pores, promote sweating, diarrhea, support kidneys, support immune system, colds, flu, excessive uterine bleeding, kidney infections, bed-wetting, urinary difficulties.
Also Known As: Qi Shu
Meridians: Lung, Liver
Key Actions: Clear Toxins, Moistens the Lungs, Clears Heat, Expels Phlegm, Promotes Secretion of Saliva, Stops Sweating
Medicinal Uses: Asthma, diarrhea, dysentery, colds, flu, clear toxins, night sweats, jaundice, phlegmy cough, dandruff, stubborn dermatitis, sores, boils, dry cough, sore throats, aching muscles and joints.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Berries, Leaves
Flavors/Temps: Sour, Pungent, Bitter, Slightly Sweet, Slightly Salty, Astringent, Drying, Cool
Caution: Considered safe. Can be too drying if overused.
Key Constituents: Polyphenols, Flavonoids, Gallic acid, Methyl gallate, Kaempferol, Quercetin, Tannins, Limonene, Vitamin C.
History/Folklore: Sumac has been used as a culinary spice and medicine for many thousands of years. The berries can be dried, ground, and sprinkled into cooking or mashed to release their juice. Historically, it has been used to promote breast milk production, soothe sore throats, ease digestive issues, promote heart health, and ease muscle pain.
The Greek physician Dioscorides mentioned sumac in his De Materia Medica as a tonic, astringent, and immune enhancing herb.
In Persia, sumac symbolizes the color of sunrise. It is included as one of seven key items placed on a table that are used during their 13-day New Year celebration called “Nowruz” or “Norouz” that marks the transition from winter to spring and celebrates the beginning of spring and the rebirth of nature.
In North America, Native Americans used the local sumac for its fragrance and flavor to make a kind of beer.
Traditionally it has been used to help open the pores, promote sweating, and urination.
Sumac is a member of the Rhus family of plants which includes poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac, as it can be commonly called, is easy to distinguish from sumac. Poison sumac has white berries versus the stunning red berries of sumac.
Sumac leaves have excellent diuretic function helping to move deep, stagnant water out of the body, reducing edema, and water retention. They are very helpful for reducing swollen tissues and even varicose veins. As a tea, the tannins in the leaves can help counter diarrhea, profuse mucus discharge, and other damp flowing tissue conditions from postnasal drip to watery slimy stools.
Used topically, the leaves antifungal properties make it effective for preventing possible fungal infections, especially fungal infections incurred in moist locations such as the tropics, pools, or gymnasiums. As a mouthwash sumac is useful for treating canker sores or loose gums.
The berries sour, astringing, and draining properties help to relieve diabetic fluid retention, insulin resistance, and manage blood sugar levels. Sumac berries blend well with schisandra (LINK), another sour tonic herb. Together they enhance each of the individual herbs tonic and immune supporting properties.
Both the leaves and berries have antibacterial properties that have been shown to help fight E. coli and other respiratory and intestinal bacteria. A cup of sumac tea can help prevent cold and flu infections as well as improve recovery time.
The difference between sumac and turmeric, which are both bright orange/red spices with powerful antioxidant properties, is that turmeric contains large quantities of curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound while sumac does not. Instead, sumac contains a very wide variety of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds with no emphasis on a particular compound. Their taste profiles are also different. Sumac is tangy and sour tasting, like lemon. Turmeric is pungent, earthy, and slightly bitter tasting.
Do not confuse the red berry sumac (Rhus typhina, R. hirta, R. coriaria, R. glabra) with (R. chinensis) commonly called Gall of Chinese Sumac (Wu Bei Zi), which is caused by the insect Melaphis. They are different plants.
In Oriental medicine, sumac is used to help astringe damp conditions. The herbs sour astringent taste are associated with the Liver and wood element and as such is used to help cleanse the liver and digestive system after the cold winter months in preparation for spring and summer. Sour flavors are typically used in small amounts, as too much can overwhelm the liver or dry out the system. Emotionally sour foods are thought to help balance the heart and mind and strengthen the flow of breath when powerful emotions are over taking us.
Do not confuse sumac (Rhus typhina, R. hirta, R. coriaria, R. glabra) with (R. chinensis), commonly called Gall of Chinese Sumac (Wu Bei Zi), which is caused by the insect Melaphis. They are different plants and one uses the leaves and berries and the Chinese, Wu Bei Zi, is making use of the gall.
The variety R. glabra is found in North America. Due to its high tannin content it is used as a medicine as well as in the tanning industry. In foods and herbs, tannins are known to be high in antioxidant properties, and all varieties of sumac contain high levels of tannins.
Sumac is said to bring harmony and help to resolve difficulties. Folklore says that if you are going to court, wear 9 berries on your person and you will receive a lighter sentence. The juice has been used to bring harmony to relationships. The leaves and berry clusters can be added to smudge sticks to calm and aid creative approaches to thinking and problem solving.
Robins, the northern mockingbird, eastern bluebird, wood thrush, hermit thrush, ring-necked pheasant, common crow, ruffed grouse, and European starling are a few of the birds that seek out sumac as a preferred source of food in the winter. The spring flowers are attractive to Honeybees.
In Greece, the wood of sumac has been used to make a lovely yellow tone dye used to dye woollen fabrics, and in Italy the entire plant has been used for tanning leather.
Sumac v. Poison Sumac
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