Cranberry Sumac - Bee Vital
The crimson red of cranberries and sumac commands your attention to the richness and vitality they proffer. Their small sizes speak nothing of their tart, sharp and bright nature. For thousands of years native peoples from around the globe have depended on these wild fruits for their aromatic allure and their medicinal properties alike. Singularly, each drupe and berry offer fortification and invigorating properties to our stamina and life force.
The medicines they carry have been proven with time and the brilliancy of their luster calls to the ancient wisdom that flows within our veins. Take us in, they beckon, we are your elders, our wisdom is sharp and our gifts are generous. At Shanti Elixirs We have listened to these wild sages and have combined their offerings with our own ancient brew, Jun, to produce Cranberry Sumac Jun, a fine dining experience.
Like many arrivals to our kitchen, when cranberry and sumac made their appearance we stood in awe as they were unveiled. Like many ingredients that have passed through our hands before, we asked of them: What stories do you have to tell? What knowledge do you wish to impart? Where are you from and how did you get here?
It’s September and it is harvest season for cranberries in the U.S. and Canada. If you’re like us, what comes to mind are those old Ocean Spray commercials that had men wading in what seemed like a
marsh that had millions of floating cranberries all around them. For many of us, this commercial created a lasting image and a widely held misconception about how cranberries grow. Many of us thought that those commercials gave us all of the information we needed: that cranberries somehow grew in water and magically floated on the surface until someone came in and scooped them all up. You thought this too right? Turns out that those commercials only gave us part of the story and many of us, unless we were from the far north and had school field trips to bogs, just never bothered to investigate further.
Fun Fact: Cranberries and Blueberries belong to the same family of plants.
What those commercials showed us was the wet-harvesting portion of the cranberry harvest. The floating cranberries came from the dwarf shrubs, vaccinium oxycoccos growing below the surface of the water. Before the bog is filled with water, the shrubs that are densely packed with fruit, grow in cultivated rows that are so low to the ground (some average about 5 inches in height) that it makes for back-breaking work to pick them by hand. It wasn’t until the 1940’s and 50’s that wet-harvesting came into fashion and made cranberry picking easier for farmers.
But how come the cranberries float?
One of the distinctive qualities to cranberries that allows wet-harvesting to be possible is the fact that they have 4 air pockets and are hollow and dry in nature. This quality gives them a natural buoyancy which allows them to float thereby, making the wet-harvesting an easier process.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the pollen of cranberries is too heavy to be carried on the wind so bee pollination is a vital part of cranberry yield each year!
Before we get to all the reasons why we want to eat cranberries year round and not just with your holiday meal, let’s first discuss why cranberries have been the go-to medicine for Urinary Tract Infections.
Cranberries contain a wide array of polyphenols which are chemical compounds that help manage inflammation while protecting the body against oxidative stress. The specific polyphenol that helps prevent the bacteria E-coli from attaching to the inner surface of the bladder and urinary tract is the compound Proanthocyanidin. This compound has a natural antibacterial effect which also prevents your kidneys from forming kidney stones.
Cranberries contain ursolic acid, a plant compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and potential anti-cancer properties. They also contain various powerful minerals and enzymes that can help lower bad cholesterol from lining and blocking your arteries.
Cranberries can also help ward off inflammation and strengthen your immune system. They contain an enzyme called nondialyzable material or NDM, which helps to keep viruses separated from our healthy cells.
The proanthocyanidins found in cranberries are also beneficial for oral hygiene as they have been found to be effective against a bacteria that causes tooth decay. They have also been proven to fight gum disease.
Fun Fact: Cranberries, Blueberries and Elderberries are the only berries native to North America.
The next time you get a fresh cranberry into your hands, cut them open and check out their hollow but beautiful pattern on the inside. Pop it into your mouth, yes, it’s tart, but..it’s also a little sweet. If you’re anything like us, knowing just a little bit of information about the foods we eat deepens our appreciation and our celebration of them. Cranberries have captured our attention here at the Shanti Junery, and now that you know just how good they are for us we give extra thanks to the farmers that bring these tart red berries to our doorstep.
Have you ever learned that something that is growing in wild abundance in the woods around you or even in your own backyard, is either a delicacy in other countries or purported to have more health benefits than you ever imagined? Do you remember that feeling of disbelief because you’ve either seen, cut down or completely ignored this plant for as long as you can remember and now you know that it's basically a national treasure? That’s how we felt when we learned about Sumac, no, not the poison sumac which is poisonous and no fun and not a national treasure, but specifically, Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina the sumac that has been trending for thousands of years.
Fun Fact: A distinguishing feature between edible and poison sumac is the color of the berries. In the fall, poison sumac berries turn white while edible sumac berries are bright red.
Staghorn Sumac can be identified by the red conical drupes that grow atop branches that are covered in a red velvety fuzz and shaped like a stag's horn. The shrub/tree can grow from 15ft-25ft in height, and the leaves of each branch are long, conical, sometimes toothed and number from 4 to about 30 leaves per branch. If you have a wild area of land visible to you, perhaps you can spot the bright red sumac drupes poking out among the greenery.
What Are Drupes?
What we have been calling sumac berries, are not berries at all but drupes. A drupe is a fruit that has an outer fleshy membrane surrounding a shell (what we sometimes call a pit) with a seed inside. Some recognizable drupes are stone fruits: peaches, plums, and cherries. Other drupes we have placed in the nut family like walnuts, almonds, and pecans.
Fun Fact: Sumac belongs to the Anacardiaceae family-the same family as cashews, pistachios and mangoes.
Thousands of years ago and still today, Sumac was being used in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Medieval Europe and by Native Americans as a spice and for medicinal purposes. It is reported that before the availability of citrus and other preservatives, that sumac was used not only to enhance the flavor of foods, but was also used to preserve meats. For culinary purposes, the drupes are dried, grounded and sifted to remove the outer skin. What remains is a bright red powder that is citrusy, floral and tart. In Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, the spice can be found in a variety of cuisines and is also mixed with other herbs and spices to form a different and uniquely flavored spice blend called Za’atar.
Sumac shrubs and trees were also native to North America and have been growing throughout the region for thousands of years. Though the different climates meant different species, the profiles of the plants are the same. It is reported that Indigenous populations of North America used sumac medicinally and culinarily as well.
One of the most famous uses of sumac by native peoples in the Americas is in a wildly foraged Sumac Lemonade. The drupes were collected in the peak of their season, before the flavor was washed away by the rain, steeped and sweetened to form a tangy pink elixir that is still enjoyed today.
For a twist on the original, try our wild harvested Cranberry Sumac Jun and tell us what you think in the comments section!
Similar to cranberries, sumac was also used globally by indigenous populations to ease the discomfort of urinary tract infections. It is reported that traditional Middle Eastern medicine utilized sumac to treat oral and respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches, liver conditions as well as inflammation of the skin. The biggest health benefit of sumac, as proven in scientific studies, is the antioxidant levels present in the spice. High antioxidant levels means an increased ability to neutralize free radicals that can cause cancers in the body. Studies have also linked sumac to lowering blood pressure levels, controlling blood sugar levels, and helping in the reduction of LDL cholesterol. There have been links to sumac and type 2 diabetes and its effects in improving insulin resistance. Other studies have highlighted sumac’s effectiveness in decreasing bone loss as well as decreasing muscle pain during exercise due to the high levels of malic acid present in the drupes. (These findings have not been evaluated by the FDA).
Fun Fact: Bees and other pollinators love sumac! Help protect bee populations by planting sumac shrubs in your wild gardens!
Sip, Savor + Share
It’s the holiday season and the Entree looks amazing! There is a bright red dusting of sumac over your favorite dips and salads and all the fixings showed up this year, especially your favorite, cranberry sauce. It’s sweet, it’s tangy and for some folks it jiggles. The holiday meal would not be complete without the side of deeply red sauce present at the table.
The table is beautifully decorated with golden pinecones painted by the children and dusted with cinnamon spice. There are mistletoe sprigs, rosemary and your freshly picked sumac drupe, dried and dazzlingly red.
Chilling on ice are full, well, one is almost full, fine dining bottles of Cranberry Sumac. You tasted it earlier and couldn’t help yourself, you had to sneak another glass over crushed ice. It’s divinely tart and sweet and the ginger spice in the end just warms you where the tartness bit your tongue moments ago. You know that all the ingredients are as local as your great grandparents are to the region and you love every sip to the last drop.
As your family and friends gather around, you fill their glasses, from elder to small child. You take a moment for gratitude, to all the beings, seen and unseen, who brought you family and your meal together. You thank the sun, the water and the earth. You offer your own blessings then offer ours:
Shanti’s Blessing: May our tart and tangy elixir activate your body and mind and rejuvenate your senses. May your life force be invigorated and your sinew be fortified. May you feel capable and competent in all of your endeavors and may you feel, in all moments, animated with joy. BEE VITAL
Happy Holidays From Shanti Elixirs!
In January of 2022, Reza Setayesh, renowned Asheville based chef and restaurant owner and dear friend to Shanti Volpe, was diagnosed with ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease, a progressive nervous system condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.
Sumac, a significant ingredient used globally, is featured in this elixir to celebrate Reza’s Persian lineage. The sumac used in this flavor has been foraged from the Appalachian mountains. “These ingredients embrace one another creating an intentional + collaborative elixir in homage to my dear friend Reza’s spirit and his healing journey.”
Since his diagnosis, Reza has shifted his energy toward focusing on recovery and spending time with his family. He feels very blessed to have discovered Healing ALS - an organization offering hope through holistic medicine.
Shanti and The Shanti Elixirs’ Hive