Smooth sumac is well known for its brilliant red fall foliage and its deep red berries. Smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, is the only shrub or tree that is native to all of the 48 contiguous states. It is a woody shrub that grows three to six feet tall in the Rocky Mountains, but 10 to 20 feet tall elsewhere. The genus Rhuscontains about 35 species that are native to North America.
Wild Sumac contains Calcium malate, Dihydrofisetin, Fisetin, Iodine, Gallic-acid-methylester, tannic and gallic acids, Selenium, Tartaric-acid, and many beneficial minerals.An infusion of the leaves is used for asthma, diarrhea and stomatosis. A poultice of the leaves used to treat skin rashes. Sumac leaves are also chewed for sore gums and rubbed on sore lips.
Chemical defenses in the leaves of sumacs are diverse and potent. They contain tannins, phytols, and three different compounds related to gallic acid which have antimicrobial activities. The arsenal of chemical defenses is so effective. A poultice of the leaves has been used to treat skin rashes. The leaves have been chewed to treat sore gums and they have been rubbed on the lips to treat sore lips.
Native Americans made good use of the chemical defenses that evolved to deter herbivores. A rinse made from boiled berries was applied to stop bleeding after childbirth. Tea prepared from leaves was used to treat asthma and diarrhea.
Crushed twigs and leaves yielded a black dye when mixed with ochre mineral and the resin of pinyon pine. Roots produced a yellow dye and a light-yellow dye could be made from the pulverized pulp of stems. Tannins extracted from leaves produce a brown dye.