Take Your Kids Foraging and Make Easy Sumac “Lemonade”

Guest Blogger

| 4 min read

sumac lemonade
There’s no better place on earth in summer than “Pure Michigan”.
Summer vacation is a time to load the car and head to the lakeshore – bikes tied to the back and sandals in tow. The great thing about our Great Lakes state is that we are never more than 20 minutes from an outdoor adventure that can rival any escape to greater terrain up north or out west.
As part of your outdoor escape, get the kids, neighbor’s kids, and even dog outdoors to plan a foraging expedition to learn wild edibles. From bogs to dune habitats at the lakeshore, this is a great chance to expose children to parts of Michigan they’ve never experienced before and teach them new outdoor skills.
Short on time and want an even lower cost excursion? Plan this endeavor to take place in your own backyard! There are many wild edibles to discover right outside your doorstep.
To begin to learn and identify wild edibles with the children:
  • Pick a place to explore: Let the kids select the plants around them to learn, sometimes the most surprising adventures can actually happen right outside the back door in the yard!
  • Safety: Remind the explorers to never pick or eat a plant until they can properly identify it.
  • Remind the children of the rules of foraging: Ask permission if it is private property you are exploring and respect the rules of any parks area.
  • Respect plant sustainability: Teach the children that we are stewards of the land and can help plants grow and propagate, especially native plants. Never harvest plants that are on the threatened or endangered list.
  • Pack a foraging kit: Include a notebook, colored pencils, a camera and perhaps a snack, sunscreen, and bug repellant. (Need an herbal recipe? Check out my blog here.)
  • Find the right expertise: Head to the library and select a few good field guides and consider picking up a copy of Midwest Foraging at your local bookstore.
Let this journey be kid-led. Let them explore the outdoors, make a plant journal and even let them get really dirty. Create a cool certificate or badge for those kids completing the adventure and celebrate them for trying something new. It’s low-cost, high-yield activity that offers lessons that last a lifetime.
To find a trail:
Thanks to the glaciers long ago, the ecosystems of Michigan area are very diverse. And what better way to learn about them than to explore them on foot with the family in tow?
In Kent County, the Kent County Parks Foundation offers miles and miles of maintained trails in its expansive parks network that local residents can explore free of charge. The State of Michigan offers great resources for hiking. Headed north? Try the Leelanau Land Conservancy for ideas of local nature walks. Some programs offer walks free for area residents. Be sure to add to your summer bucket list nature centers and eco-preserves to walk the trails and experience the land that might be different. Remember, many of these habitats may have stringent rules prohibiting foraging – be sure to use these areas as learning laboratories only, taking nothing and leaving only footprints.
Easy Foraged Summertime Refreshment: Staghorn Sumac “Lemonade”
Common in hedgerows and at the edges of the field are the staghorn and smooth sumac. Both sumacs are common native shrubs whose flower clusters ripen into deep red fruit clusters toward the end of July and into early September.
The berries – or drupes in botanical language – taste sour like lemonade. Use hand pruners to gather the drupes into a bucket, choosing the clusters that are most bright in color and most uniformly red. In the kitchen, separate the red and sour drupes from the stems – be warned there may be a scattering of small bugs as you sort the plants.
To prepare: Pack the drupes into a jar and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for a day or so in the fridge. Strain the liquid into a serving pitcher and voila – a delicious pink lemonade! Serve cold over ice and garnish with sprigs of lavender.
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About the author: Lisa Rose is an herbalist, forager, published author and wellness expert. Rose’s professional career has included food work in the Napa Valley, Leelanau County, and Grand Rapids. She has been part of growing the local food movement in West Michigan from the ground up. When she is not in her own gardens or kitchen, Rose can be found in the fields and forests, leading foraging plant walks and teaching classes on edible and medicinal wild plants. Beyond the Great Lakes, Rose’s interest in ethnobotany and herbal medicine have taken her across the United States and into the Yucatan, mainland Mexico, Nicaragua, and Brazil to study plants, people, health, and their connection to place. Her newest book, “Midwest Foraging“, is available at local book retailers throughout the Midwest as well as via online retailers. Signed copies are available directly through the author at burdockandrose.com.
Lisa Rose Author Photo Credit Jonathan Stoner
All photos courtesy of the author.

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