The fragrant sumac or lemon sumac (Rhus aromatica Aiton, 1789) is a shrub species belonging to the Anacardiaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
R. aromatica species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Lobadium amentaceum Raf.;
– Lobadium aromaticum (Aiton) Sweet;
– Lobadium crenatum (Mill.) F.A.Barkley;
– Lobadium fetidum Raf.;
– Lobadium suaveolens (Aiton) Raf.;
– Lobadium trifoliatum Raf.;
– Myrica trifoliata hort.;
– Myrica trifoliata hort. ex Turpin;
– Myrica trifoliolata hort.;
– Myrica trifoliolata hort. ex DC.;
– Rhus aromatica f. simplicifolia (Greene) W.A.Weber;
– Rhus aromatica subsp. flabelliformis (Shinners) R.E.Brooks;
– Rhus aromatica var. glabra Engl.;
– Rhus aromatica var. illinoensis (Greene) Rehder;
– Rhus aromatica var. simplicifolia (Greene) Cronquist;
– Rhus aromatica var. suaveolens (Aiton) H.Jaeger & Beissn.;
– Rhus canadensis Marshall;
– Rhus canadensis var. illinoensis (Greene) Fernald;
– Rhus canadensis var. simplicifolia Greene;
– Rhus crenata (Mill.) Rydb., 1932;
– Rhus illinoensis (Greene) Ashe;
– Rhus illinoensis var. formosa (Greene) Ashe;
– Rhus illinoiensis Ashe;
– Rhus suaveolens Aiton;
– Rhus trilobata subsp. aromatica (Greene) F.A.Barkley;
– Rhus trilobata var. aromatica (Greene) Barkl.;
– Schmaltzia anomala Greene;
– Schmaltzia arenaria Greene;
– Schmaltzia aromatica Desv.;
– Schmaltzia aromatica Desv. ex Steud.;
– Schmaltzia crataegifolia Greene;
– Schmaltzia crenata (Mill.) Greene;
– Schmaltzia formosa Greene;
– Schmaltzia illinoensis Greene;
– Schmaltzia serrata Greene;
– Schmaltzia trilobata var. arenaria (Greene) F.A.Barkley;
– Schmalzia aromatica Desv.;
– Schmalzia aromatica Desv. ex Steud.;
– Schmalzia illinoensis Greene;
– Schmalzia simplicifolia Greene;
– Toxicodendron crenatum Mill.;
– Toxicodendron cuneatum K.Koch;
– Turpinia aromatica Raf.;
– Turpinia aromatica Raf. ex Desv.;
– Turpinia suaveolens Raf..
Within this species, some subspecies and varieties are recognized:
– Rhus aromatica subsp. aromatica;
– Rhus aromatica subsp. serotrina (Greene);
– Rhus aromatica var. arenaria (Greene) Fernald;
– Rhus aromatica var. aromatica Aiton;
– Rhus aromatica var. pilosissima W.A.Weber, 1979;
– Rhus aromatica var. schmidelioides (Schltdl.) Engl.;
– Rhus aromatica var. serotina (Greene) Rehder.
The term Rhus comes from the Celtic red rhudd: reference to the color of infructescences.
The specific aromatic epithet comes from aroma aroma, perfume: aromatic, fragrant.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Rhus aromatica is a plant native to North America. It is found in southern Canada (from Alberta to Quebec) and in nearly all of the lower 48 states except Peninsular Florida.
Its habitat is that of dry rocky places, open sands and woods and often on limestone outcrops; however, it grows in a variety of environments such as: open rocky forests, valley floors, rocky slopes and road edges.
The fragrant sumac is a deciduous shrub with a rounded shape that grows from about 0.6m to 1.5m in height and from 1.5m to 3.0m in width.
The leaves are composed alternating with three leaflets that vary in shape, lobes and margins. The leaflets without peduncle are ovate to rhomboid, more or less wedge-shaped at the base, with coarse teeth and generally hairless shiny above. The terminal flap is 3 cm to 6.5 cm long.
The foliage takes on a color that goes from green to shiny blue-green in the summer and turns from orange to red or purple in autumn. The stems are thin and brownish-gray, with russet-colored lenticels when young. Leaves and stems give off a lemon scent when crushed. There are no terminal buds, but there are male catkins that overwinter.
The plant produces clustered yellow flowers on short side shoots from March to May. The flower is a small, dense inflorescence that usually opens before the leaves of the plant.
The species is polygamodium (mostly dioecious, bearing mainly flowers of one sex, but with few flowers of the opposite sex or some bisexual flowers on the same plant). The male flowers (stem) develop into yellowish catkins, while the female flowers (pistillates) develop into short, bright yellow panicles at the ends of the branches.
The pollinated flowers produce, from June to August, clusters of hairy red drupes ranging in size from 5 mm to 7 mm, containing a single walnut. The fruits become an important winter food for birds and small mammals that can remain on the plant until spring if not eaten.
Rhus aromatica is a plant typical of the wooded edges of the Great Plains and in open or otherwise disturbed sites on the edges of prairies.
It is a plant that is used in the medicinal field but less used for ornamental purposes.
In some cases it is used as a ground cover species, especially on the banks. The plant’s colorful fall foliage is its main ornamental feature.
The plant grows in both full shade and full sun, on well-drained, slightly acidic to alkaline soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 8.5. It has a shallow, fibrous root system and is easily transplanted. Some of its branches can drag on the ground and develop roots. The plant produces suckers that can help colonize entire areas.
Rhus aromatica is also a very cold-resistant plant, able to tolerate temperatures down to about -35 ° C when it is dormant in the winter.
Propagation can occur by seed.
The seed should be sown in an unheated seedbed as soon as it is ripe. It must be immersed before sowing for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 – 90 ° C and letting it cool) to eliminate any germination inhibitors.
This soaking water can be drunk and has a delicious lemon flavor. The stored seed also needs warm water treatment and can be sown in early spring in an unheated seedbed.
Once they have germinated and reached the size of a few cm, they can be transplanted into individual pots where they will be grown until the definitive transplant in open field in spring.
Propagation can also be agamic using 10 cm semi-mature wood cuttings in the mid-summer period.
You can also prepare 4 cm long root cuttings taken in December and potted vertically in a greenhouse.
Customs and Traditions –
Fragrant sumac is a plant that is harvested in nature for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is also cultivated as a ground cover, stabilizer of the soil and to rehabilitate disturbed sites, and it is also cultivated as an ornamental, where it is especially appreciated for its autumn color.
Among the edible uses, both raw and cooked fruits are eaten.
These when immersed for 10 – 30 minutes in hot or cold water produce a very refreshing drink similar to lemonade.
The mixture should not be boiled as this will release tannic acids and make the drink astringent. The fruit can also be dried and ground into a powder, then mixed with cornmeal and used in cakes, porridges, etc.
Ripe fruits are dried and used in teas.
This plant also plays an important role as a medicine.
The leaves are astringent and diuretic and were once used in the treatment of colds, stomach pains and bleeding.
The root bark is astringent and diuretic.
An infusion of this can be used in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery. It is used externally to treat excessive vaginal discharge and rashes and also as a gargle for sore throats.
Its use, however, is contraindicated if inflammation is present.
The fruits are astringent and diuretic and are chewed in the treatment of stomach pain, toothache and neuralgia and used as a gargle to treat ailments of the mouth and throat.
These help reduce fever and may aid in the treatment of senile diabetes.
The plant is used in homeopathic remedies to treat kidney and urinary infections, in particular diabetes, and other problems related to the urinary system.
However, some caution is advised in the use of the leaves and stems of this plant.
Other uses of this plant concern agroforestry ones.
Rhus aromatica is a pioneer species, which quickly establishes itself from the seed after strong disturbances, in particular fires, and creating suitable conditions for the settlement of native species.
Furthermore, the leaves that are rich in tannin (up to 25%) can be harvested as they fall in autumn and then be used to obtain a brown dye or as a mordant.
The bark is also a good source of tannin and a yellow dye can be obtained from the root.
An oil is extracted from the seeds which is very thick and is used to make candles. These burn emitting a bright flame even though they emit a pungent smoke.
Finally the broken stems are used in the making of the baskets.
Preparation Method –
The fragrant sumac is a plant that is used in the food, medicinal and other uses.
For medicinal use, the root is used, which is harvested in autumn and dried for later use.
From the leaves are obtained infusions for the treatment of colds, stomach pains and bleeding.
Infusions are also obtained from the root for the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery. It is used externally to treat excessive vaginal discharge and rashes and also as a gargle for sore throats.
For food use, the fruits are consumed both raw and cooked and if immersed for 10 – 30 minutes in hot or cold water they produce a very refreshing drink similar to lemonade.
The fruit can also be dried and ground into a powder, then mixed with cornmeal and used in cakes, porridges, etc.
Ripe fruits are dried and used in teas.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.