Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia


Shumake noun The sumac bush (Rhus glabra). Its bark is made into a preparation to treat burns, and its blossoms and fruit are used for a tea drunk as medicine or for refreshment and called sumacade.
….1927 Thornborough Tramping 466 He also told me that the mountain people call hemlock “spruce pine,” the black spruce “he-balsam,” the Fraser balsam “she-balsam,” the sumac “shumake,” the butternut “white walnut,” while cucumber is humorously called “cowcucumber.” 1936 LAMASAS (Madison Co NC, Swain Co NC). 1966-68 DARE = causes itching and swelling (Brasstown NC, Burnsville NC, Cherokee NC, Spruce Pine NC). [1971 Krochmal et al. Medicinal Plants Appal 214 The dried ripe fruit of sumac is valuable as a source of tannic acid. Preparations of these fruits are effective as astringents, anti-diuretics, and tonics. In Appalachia, leaves are smoked to treat asthma.]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Shumake (sounds like shoe make) is another word that I didn’t realize…well I didn’t realize it wasn’t a word.

Until recently, I thought Sumac was a totally different plant than shoe-make which I’ve known about my entire life.

Research online and in books tells me red sumac (shoe-make) is safe for eating. White Sumac is the one that is poisonous and will cause itching and hives.


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  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    August 14, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    My grandpa always called it shoemake
    And I thought that was the real name until I started working for the National Park Service! I have used the red berries to make a beautiful dye on wool and have also make a wonderful pink lemonade from the berries. It is so beautiful in the fall when the leaves turn brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows!

  • Reply
    September 9, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Roy-YIKES! I’ve read that inhaling the smoke of white sumac can be deadly! I’m glad she was ok : ) I need to share a story about Pap and his run in with the poison kind.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    September 9, 2015 at 6:02 am

    Once I burned some shoe-make in the fireplace. My wife’s eyes almost swelled shut. Don’t burn, at least in a closed up area such as your fireplace.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Here I am with insomnia, and realized I had not dropped by your blog on Tuesday. I always find it so interesting and “memory prodding.”
    Years ago when I lived more in the country there were these beautiful bushes growing along a bank. In the Autumn they had the most brilliant red I have ever seen. A visitor from another state was visiting, and found them amazing. So, we asked my Dad (the authority on almost everything native to the area)to find out what they were. He called them Shumates. I found poison Sumac in a reference book and just figured it was a mountain man mispronouncing a word he had heard growing up. The subject never came up for many years until my Grandson roped me into helping with a leaf project at school. I researched enough to know the leaf I found was not of the poison variety, so it was placed in his leaf book with a notation.
    Now, thanks to your blog, all these years later I find Dad was right–he knew all the trees, plants and wildlife. I still can’t even identify ginseng.

  • Reply
    Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado'
    September 9, 2015 at 3:56 am

    I love sumac in grain and veggie salads. I also use za’atar blend.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    In our neck of the woods, we call the ones that turn red “flame sumac”. They make a pretty autumn bouquet.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Tipper-I think folks are still confusing poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) with shoemake (Rhus glabra). It was once thought to be in the same genus because of the similarity of the leaves. They are both in the same family (anacardiaceae) as cashews. I hope people don’t stop eating cashews.
    Shoemake is not poisonous but it sure can be a pest. I have it on my property and it’s trying to take over. If you pull it up, a two foot tall plant might have a root 15 feet long. If you try to pull up the main root every side root that breaks off will grow a new plant. If you manage to pull the whole root, at the end there is usually another plant with a another root that continues on. If you are mowing the area it will eventually die off after a few years. Roundup will kill it back for the rest of the year but the root will survive and come back next spring.
    I had some rich black soil in one part of my yard that I wanted to move to my garden but it was full of shoemake roots tangled with briar roots. I made a screen and sifted the soil into a wheelbar before putting it on the garden. I still had shoemake come up.
    Yes, it’s a wheelbar! A wheelbarrow is shiny and clean with the maker’s labels still on it. A wheelbar is rusty and worn. The wheel skreaks and the tire has to be pumped up every time you use it. If you are hauling dirt or mulch, you have to put cardboard over the holes in the bed before you fill it or you will have only half a load when you get where you are going.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 8, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    There are several species of sumac. The most common one in a lot of places is the one you mention “Rhus glabra”. Another common names for it are ‘winged sumac’ so named because the mid-rib on the compound leaf has ‘wings between each leaflet. Your picture shows them fairly well. Still another common name is ‘shining sumac’ because the leaves are glossy.
    Winged sumac makes a pretty little landscape mini-tree in part because it turns a beautiful red about this time of year. I have made sumac-ade using its fruits several times and it is good but needs to be strained to get the little ‘beards’ out of it for the best appearance.
    There is a ‘poison sumac’ that is a relative of poison ivy that causes the rash and itching. The scientific name is “Toxicodendron vernix” thus not a sumac at all, though it resembles one. Its range is eastern Canada and eastern US plus Texas. The range map and images can be seen at the USDA Plants Database online.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I’ve never had any trouble out of
    shoe-make and I cut down lots of it every year before I do any gardening. But I wear gloves and
    wash throughly afterwards.
    I had an older brother who got
    really poisoned and had to go to
    the Doctor. His face and arms were a mess.
    Just above my footlog that goes
    to the garden and along the creek
    bank, there’s plenty of shoe-make
    trees. Mine must be the white

  • Reply
    September 8, 2015 at 11:51 am

    The red berries can be brewed into a tea (some say “lemonade). Lots of recipes available on the web. Here’s one:

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 8, 2015 at 11:38 am

    It’s always been shoemake to me and shoemake t’will always be!
    If you ain’t never made a popgun from the stem of a shoemake then you ain’t no Appalachian mountain boy! If you called it a spit wad gun, that’ll pass.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    September 8, 2015 at 11:22 am

    These comments by the ladies in this group come ‘across’ just like my Grandmother Wimpey and my Grandma Mull would have talked! Sweet memories! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    September 8, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Today I learned something new. To me sumac was something to stay away from. Now I realize that there is some value as a plant and bark. Thanks for the info.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    September 8, 2015 at 10:12 am

    I’ve often heard it called shoe-mack, but never shoe-make. I’ve also handled the stuff all my life and never got any hives or itching from it, in spite of often hearing it called poison shoe-mack. When I was a kid and my friends and I thought smoking cornsilk was a cool thing to do, we made the stems of our corncob pipes out of a piece of sumac branch with the middle pulp removed with a piece of baling wire.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

    My grandmother, Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer, was very knowledgeable in natural herbs and their usages. I often wish I had her “herb receipts” (as she called them–recipes–but those must have long been lost). She knew the uses of sumac (and she called the plant and berries shoemake, too). Thanks for the information on shoemake (sumac).

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 8, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Poison sumac is what I’ve heard it called and it was pronounced just like it is spelled. Given the first word of what I heard it called I always avoided it, like poison ivy, it would make you itch.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 8, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Interesting, I did not realize Sumac had so many uses

  • Reply
    Laura Orabone
    September 8, 2015 at 7:05 am

    We harvested sumac berries yesterday – very tart! Going to dry them and make za’atar spice rub tonight.

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