Sumac (or sumach) is a variety of flowering shrub that belongs to a family of plants known as Anacardiaceae (closely related to cashews and mangoes, did you know?) Sumac thrives in subtropical and temperate climates and grows all over the world, including various parts of the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa There are more than 200 different species of sumac, all of which belong to the genus Rhus. From the point of view of botanical printing, it’s a very interesting and “generous” plant. It contains tannins and also color. Sometimes, it can also act as a discharge leaf, especially when natural dyes are involved. Therefore, using the proper mordants we can obtain quite a variety of different effects with the same leaf. The prints are always crisp, precise and clear.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus Thypina)
Staghorn sumac is known in some parts of the world as “velvet tree” or “vinegar tree.” Velvet refers to the velvety texture of the fuzz on the outer branches , and vinegar because in some areas a vinegar is produced from this variety of sumac. In Haleb, Syria, a milk drink is made from the seeds of the sumac.
Most probably this is the most common sumac variety used for ecoprint in Europe and North America.
Also the kind “Tiger sumac”, which is just a compact form of the staghorn sumac, is very popular among ecoprinters, as it is easily found in gardens. Like almost all kinds of sumac, the leaves turn red in the Autumn and add an amazing touch of color to any landscape.
Monika Lorenz – Tiger sumac on Viscose dyed with Indigo
“Poison sumac” – Toxicodendron vernix
Sometimes also called thunderwood, it is a type of woody shrub that belongs to the same family of plants as poison ivy. Although it shares the same name as sumac spice, the two belong to different plant genera and share very few similarities.
Unlike sumac spice, poison sumac is not edible and can actually be extremely dangerous to health. The plant contains a compound called urushiol, which can irritate the skin and mucous membranes, causing a poison sumac rash. When the leaves are burned, the compound can even enter the lungs, causing pain and difficulty breathing, which can even be fatal.
Rhus coriaria or Syrian sumac
This is the variety I find here in Israel and usually print in my studio.
People cultivate this variety for culinary use and herbal medicine. This kind of sumac, used for cooking, is characterized by the large, dense clusters of bright red, pea-sized fruit it produces. This explains the origin of the name : “Summaq” means “red” in Arabic.
People can steep the fresh fruits to make tea, but more often they dry and powder them for use as an herbal supplement or culinary seasoning.
This same variety of sumac has also been used for medical treatment for centuries. The herb contains tannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, organic acids, and essential oils. Various scientific studies demonstrated that Sumac had a protective effect against liver damage and leukopenia, along with its antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
Recently, several scientific studies suggest that Sumac extract could be useful in the treatment of COVID-19.
But it has even more benefits: its astringent quality, due to the tannins it contains, makes it useful to fight diarrhea, hemorrhoids, excess urination, and bleeding.