Is Staghorn Sumac Poisonous? Debunking the Myths

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By Ben

Staghorn sumac is a common shrub that is found throughout North America. It is known for its strikingly beautiful foliage and its use in a variety of culinary dishes, but some people worry that it may be poisonous. In this article, we will explore the truth about staghorn sumac and its potential toxicity.

What is Staghorn Sumac?

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a deciduous shrub or small tree that belongs to the cashew family (Anacardiaceae). It is native to North America and is commonly found along roadsides, fields, and forest edges. The plant is known for its distinctive fuzzy branches and leaves, which turn a bright red in the fall.

The plant produces small, red, hairy fruit clusters, which can be harvested and used to make sumac tea, a traditional Middle Eastern beverage. The fruit has a tangy, citrus-like flavor and is also used as a spice in cooking.

Is Staghorn Sumac Poisonous?

Despite the common belief that all sumac plants are poisonous, staghorn sumac is actually quite harmless. The plant does not contain urushiol, the oily resin that causes an allergic reaction in people who come into contact with poison ivy or poison oak.

In fact, staghorn sumac has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Native Americans used various parts of the plant to treat a variety of ailments, including diarrhea, fever, and sore throats.

Harvesting and Using Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn sumac is a popular ingredient in a variety of dishes, including meat marinades, dressings, and spice blends. The fruit can be harvested in the fall when it is fully ripe and has turned a deep red color. To make sumac tea, simply steep the fruit clusters in hot water for several minutes, then strain and sweeten to taste.

When harvesting staghorn sumac, it is important to avoid plants growing in contaminated areas or near roadsides, as they may have absorbed pollutants or toxins from the environment.


Staghorn sumac is a beautiful and versatile plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal and culinary properties. While it is important to be cautious when foraging and handling plants, there is no need to fear staghorn sumac. This plant is completely harmless and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, from tea and spice blends to the stunning fall foliage it produces.


Is staghorn sumac poisonous to the touch?

Despite the association of the name “sumac” with poisonous plants, not all sumac species are toxic. The common sumac species found along roads and fields are staghorn and smooth sumac, and are not poisonous to the touch. This means that touching them will not cause any harm or toxic reactions.

Is staghorn sumac edible?

Staghorn sumac is a variety of sumac that is edible and tasty. While many people may associate the word “sumac” with the itchy and poisonous relative of poison ivy, staghorn sumac is entirely different. In fact, the fruit of the staghorn sumac is high in vitamin C and can be used to make a tart and refreshing drink that is similar to lemonade. The fruit can also be used as a seasoning, adding a sour and tangy flavor to dishes. So, if you come across staghorn sumac, don’t hesitate to try it!

Will staghorn sumac give you a rash?

While staghorn sumac is not poisonous and touching it generally does not cause a reaction, some people may have an allergic reaction if they come into contact with it. This can result in a rash, itching, or hives. It’s important to note that staghorn sumac is not the same as poison sumac, which is a toxic plant that can cause severe rashes and blisters. It’s important to properly identify the plant before touching or consuming it to avoid any potential harm.

How can you tell if sumac is poisonous?

To determine if a sumac plant is poisonous, you can look for certain visual cues. Poison sumac has clusters of white or light-green berries that hang down on its branches, while non-poisonous sumac has upright red berries. Additionally, the leaves of poison sumac have smooth edges and each stem has a cluster of leaflets, whereas non-poisonous sumac leaves have jagged edges. These differences can help you identify the plant and avoid any potential harm.

Is sumac poisonous to humans?

Sumac is a plant that has different species, and not all of them are poisonous to humans. However, the Poison Sumac plant is entirely toxic to humans, and all parts of it can cause skin and mucous membrane irritation. It’s essential to note that burning the shrub can cause internal inflammation, irritation, and diarrhea. Therefore, it’s crucial to properly identify the type of sumac plant and avoid coming into contact with the Poison Sumac plant to prevent any potential harm.

How long does it take to have a reaction to poison sumac?

When you come into contact with poison sumac, it can take some time for a rash to appear. If you have had a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac before, then the rash can develop in a few hours. However, if you have never had a rash from these plants before, it can take about 2 to 3 weeks before you see a rash. It is important to note that the rash can vary in severity and may take several weeks to go away completely.

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