Sumac Basil Tea




Tis the season of these fuzzy tart rubies.

The cicadas are buzzing, the days are steamy, but the nearly-sharp chill of the early morning gives away that secret I’ve been aching to hear…that fall is knocking at the door.


Sumac is often used in shawarma seasonings or ground up and sprinkled over hummus and Mediterranean meats, but this year the warm days make me want a refreshing cool drink that’s like a Midwestern lemonade.




Staghorn Sumac, or Rhus typhina (relative of the cashew and mango), is named for the tight clumps of furry berries growing upwards at the end of the branches.  The leaves are compound and toothed and from afar may resemble those of a walnut.  Parts of the sumac tree have been used medicinally to treat ailments such as asthma, sore throat, digestive issues, boils, ulcers and rashes.

This edible sumac is NOT to be confused with poison sumac which grows mostly in the wetlands of Eastern North America, has greyish-white waxy berries and leaves that are smooth.  Please, do not confuse.




I tried two methods:

  1. steeping the berries in cold water for a few hours, and
  2. steeping them in hot water for one hour.  Hot, but not boiling—boiling water will cause it to become bitter and tannic, and lose vitamin C.  I thought both methods were tasty.


A huge bowl of fresh basil was sitting on the table from this morning’s garden time so it seemed obvious to try it in the tea.  I added the basil directly to the cold water jar and let it steep with the sumac.  I let the hot water pot steep with the sumac for around 45 minutes before adding the basil for the last 15 minutes.  It’s a lazy hot day, so these times are pretty loose…




If you look closely you can make out the dual pines image etched into this cup.  The drawing combines the likeness of an ancient Scottish necklace (the border) with the two pines representing the Circle Pines Center in Delton, Michigan.  I made this design for a reunion in memory of my grandfather who was part of the creation of Circle Pines while he and my grandmother ran the Ashland Folk School in Grant, Michigan, and who lived his life in the spirit of joy and group recreation.  Here is more about N.S.F. Grundtvig, and the Danish Folk School (peoples college) philosophy which became so much a part of our lives (even though we’re not Danish!).


Viva l’amour!


Sumac Basil Tea

Steep Time: 1-5 hours


Cold Water Method

In a quart jar, crush lightly with your hands:

2-3 clumps of Sumac Berries


1 quart water

2-3 stems of Basil leaves

Let steep five hours (setting it in the sun would speed up the process) or overnight.  Strain, chill and serve.

If you need sweetener add maple syrup, sugar or honey to taste.


Hot Water Method

In a teapot or french press pot, crush lightly with your hands:

2-3 clumps of Sumac Berries


1 quart hot water—not boiling

Let steep about 45 minutes.  

Add and steep for another 15 minutes or so:

2-3 stems of Basil Leaves

Strain, chill and serve.  

If you need sweetener add maple syrup, sugar or honey to taste.

Other tasty possibilities to mix with sumac tea:

    • Mint
    • Nutmeg
    • Berries
    • Ginger
    • Lavender
    • Cucumber

Danish Folk Schools of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were largely founded on the teachings of N.S.F. Grundtvig’s and his four principles, ones that are still relevant today:

  • Affirmation of Life
  • Stay as Close to Nature as Possible
  • The Goodness and Beauty of Ordinary Life
  • Lifelong Learning and Education


De skal leve!  (to live!)










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