Plant of the Month ~~ AUGUST 2006
- Common Name(s): Lemonade Berry
- Scientific Name: Rhus integrifolia
- Family: Anacardiaceae, Sumac family (aka Cashew family)
- Plant Type: evergreen
- Size: shrub, 3 to 10 feet high and 4 to 20 feet wide
- Common Habitat: chaparral or coastal sage scrub
Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia):
Leaves are flat and leathery, one to two inches long, and sometimes serrated. Note the "Rhus" part of the name, that is the same beginning as Poison Oak until it was reclassified.
Common to Southern California, occurring in the coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and oak woodland below about 2,500 feet. This plant has small flowers with five petals and five sepals clustered at the ends of the stems. The flowers of lemonade berry are white to pink. The fruits are red, hairy, and sticky. It commonly blooms from February to April.
The Cahuilla and other California native people ate the fruits of the lemonade berry raw. They soaked the berries in water to make a beverage, and ground the dried berries into flour for a mush or to add to soup. It also has medicinal uses.
The following illustrates these aspects of the plant. While you should not take it out of the park to try this at home, note that the plant and its cousin, sugar bush (Rhus Ovata), are both commonly used in landscaping or gardening, so, visit your local nursery to pick one up! Both like full sun to part shade and average soil. They are very adaptable and respond well to pruning - though topical exposure to the plant oils may cause a rash (a hint of their poison oak cousin?). Sugar bush is more heat tolerant than lemonade berry.
Ripe berries of the sugar bush or lemonade berry can be soaked in hot water to produce a tart lemon-tasting beverage. Steeping in almost boiling water produces a stronger drink than steeping in sun-heated water. For a strong drink, you will need a ratio of one-part berries to two parts water.
These berries make a tart snack if picked right off of the bush, but only if sucked for their juice; the pulp is not swallowed. The berries have small hairs that can upset your stomach. So, enjoy the bitter refreshing taste and spit the berry out when done.
The dried berries can also be ground into flour and added to soup.
Tea made from the stems can be used to treat coughs. The tea made from the bark, berries, or leaves steeped in cold water can be gargled for sore throats and cold sores, or you can drink it to alleviate diarrhea or urinary problems (best to use leaves for the latter).
Caution: Some people are allergic to the bark, roots, and leaves, so use it sparingly the first time.
Source of the black & white drawing: http://trees.stanford.edu/images/rhus/RHUin.jpg
Contributed by Liz Baumann
Curious what was featured in past Plants of the Month? Search the Archives.
References:Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Roadside Plants of Southern California, by Thomas J. Belzer
California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien
California Herbal Remedies, by LoLo Westrich