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The leaves and fruit of a tanner's sumac (Rhus coriaria) shrub, a species of sumac (sense 1), at the Shio-Mgvime monastery in Georgia
The spice sumac (sense 3) on sale at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

The noun is derived from Middle English sumac, asimac, simak, sumak, symak (portions of the shrub Rhus coriaria, chiefly used for medicinal purposes), from Anglo-Norman sumak, symak, and Old French sumac,[1] or directly from its etymon Medieval Latin sumach, sumac, from Arabic سُمَّاق(summāq), from Classical Syriac ܣܘܡܩܐ(summāqā, red; sumac). The English word is cognate with Italian sommaco, sommacco, Occitan simac, Portuguese sumagre, Spanish zumaque.[2]

The verb is derived from the noun.


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sumac (usually uncountable, plural sumacs)

  1. Any of various shrubs or small trees of the genus Rhus and other genera in Anacardiaceae, particularly the elm-leaved sumac, Sicilian sumac, or tanner's sumac (Rhus coriaria).
    • 1693 January, Leonardi Plukenetii [i.e., Leonard Plukenet], “PHYTOGRAPHIA seu Plantæ quamplurimæ novæ & Literis huc usque incognitæ variis & remotissimis Provinciis ipsisq; Indiis allatæ Nomine & Iconibus. []”, in Philosophical Transactions. Giving Some Account of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours, of the Ingenious, in Many Considerable Parts of the World, volume VI, number 196, London: Printed for T. Woodward, [] and C. Davis [] printers to the Royal Society, OCLC 630046584, page 621:
      The Rhamnus of Maderaspatan, and the Trifoliate Sumachs from the Coaſt of Africa, are altogether new.
    • 1708, J[ohn] Oldmixon, “[The History of Virginia.] Of the Climate, the Soil, and Its Productions, as Trees, Seeds, Plants, Roots, Fruits, and Flowers.”, in The British Empire in America, Containing the History of the Discovery, Settlement, Progress and Present State of All the British Colonies, on the Continent and Islands of America. In Two Volumes. [], volume I, London: Printed for John Nicholson [], Benjamin Tooke [], and Richard Parker and Ralph Smith [], OCLC 62438526, page 308:
      Shumack, Chapacour, and the famous Snake-root, ſo much admir'd in England for being a Cordial, and an Antidote in all Peſtilential Diſeases.
    • 1734, [John Tennent], Every Man His Own Doctor: Or, The Poor Planter’s Physician. [], 2nd edition, Williamsburg, Va.; Annapolis, Md.: Printed and sold by William Parks, [], OCLC 874660081; republished Williamsburg, Va.: Printing and Post Office, Colonial Williamsburg, 1971, OCLC 8905723, page 51:
      In the mean Time, gargle your Throat, and waſh all your Sores, and Ulcers with the ſame warm Liquor, which ought to be made freſh every 2 Days. Beſides all this, you muſt chew the Sumac Root very often, and ſwallow the healing Juice.
    • 1757, Philip Miller, “June”, in The Gardeners Kalendar; Directing what Works are Necessary to be Done Every Month in the Kitchen, Fruit, and Pleasure-gardens, as also the Conservatory and Nursery. [], 11th edition, London: Printed by Charles Rivington, for John Rivington, []; and James Rivington and James Fletcher, [], OCLC 723005044, page 185:
      Plant cutings of Myrtles in a bed of light rich earth, obſerving to water and ſhade them until they have taken root; and now you may plant cutings of [...] African Sumaches, and many other exotic plants, which are ſhrubby; [...]
    • 1832, [Frances Milton] Trollope, chapter XVIII, in Domestic Manners of the Americans. [], London: Printed for Whittaker, Treacher, & Co.; [], OCLC 228146649, page 160:
      Often, on descending into the narrow valleys, we found a little spot of cultivation, a garden, or a field hedged round with shumacs, rhododendrons, and azalias, and a cottage covered with roses.
    • 1833, J[ames] E[dward] Alexander, chapter IV, in Transatlantic Sketches, Comprising Visits to the Most Interesting Scenes in North and South America, and the West Indies. [] In Two Volumes, volume II, London: Richard Bentley, [], OCLC 10793896, page 82:
      Immediately after leaving the town, on each side of the road, were the purple flowers of the iron-weed and the red shumack, under which the deer love to repose, for it conceals them from their enemies, as the variegated heath did the tartan-clad Highlanders.
    • 1844 September 26, Alexander Turnbull, “Specification of the Patent Granted to Alexander Turnbull, [], for a New Mode or Method of More Expeditiously and Effectually Tanning Hides and Skins, and of Extracting and Separating the Catechuic Acid from the Tannic Acid in the Catechu or Terra Japonica, Used in Tanning.— []”, in The Repertory of Patent Inventions, and Other Discoveries and Improvements in Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture; [], volume VII (Enlarged Series), number 3, London: Published for the proprietor, by Alexander Macintosh, []; and sold by Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., []; J[ohn] Weale, []; and G. Hebert, [], published March 1846, OCLC 321086315, page 168:
      Tannin or tannic acid is a vegetable principle produced from nut-galls, catechu, or cutch, or terra japonica, oak-bark, divi divi, or the pod of the corsalpin coriaria, valonia, or the cup of the acorn from the prickly oak, sumack, cork-tree bark, mimosa, or wattle bark, larch bark, and many other astringent vegetable substances. This vegetable principle is employed in tanning leather.
    • 1854 August 9, Henry D[avid] Thoreau, “Sounds”, in Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, OCLC 4103827, page 139:
      A young forest growing up under your windows, and wild sumachs and blackberry vines breaking through into your cellar; sturdy pitch-pines rubbing and creaking against the shingles for want of room, their roots reaching quite under the house.
    • 1858, [William Ellery Channing], Near Home. A Poem, Boston, Mass.: James Munroe and Company, OCLC 2675715, page 46:
      Here, be gardens of Hesperian mould, / Recesses rare, temples of birch and fern, / Preserves of light-green Sumac, Ivy thick, / And old stone-fences tottering to their fall, [...]
    • 1869, Israel Wilkinson, “Sixth Generation”, in Memoirs of the Wilkinson Family in America. [], Jacksonville, Ill.: Davis & Penniman, printers, OCLC 16938540, page 201:
      Without the wall a birch-tree shows / Its drouped and tasselled head; / Within, a stag-horned sumack grows, / Fern-leafed, with spikes of red.
    • 1876, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter XXIX, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hartford, Conn.: The American Publishing Company, OCLC 1000326417, page 222:
      They plunged into the narrow path between the tall sumach bushes, and were at once hidden in the gloom.
    • 1931, Gustav Melby, Light and Shade, St. Paul, Minn.: La Beau Publishing Company, OCLC 18492042, page 70:
      He seemed like a broken reed / On the shore of a marshy lake, / In the fall when the shumacks bleed / 'Mid the withering grass of the brake.
    • 1946 January, William Carlos Williams, Paterson, New York, N.Y.: New Directions, OCLC 296452; Christopher MacGowan, editor, Paterson, revised edition, New York, N.Y.: New Directions, April 1995, →ISBN, book I:
      ―a scattering of man-high cedars (sharp cones), antlered sumac.
    • 1957 May 4, J[erome] D[avid] Salinger, “Zooey”, in The New Yorker[1], New York, N.Y.: New Yorker Magazine Inc., ISSN 0028-792X, OCLC 243417341, page 32 (start of article):
      There was a Steinway grand piano [...] a cherrywood writing table, and an assortment of floor lamps, table lamps, and "bridge" lamps that sprang up all over the congested inscape like sumac.
  2. Dried and chopped-up leaves and stems of a plant of the genus Rhus, particularly the tanner's sumac (see sense 1), used for dyeing and tanning leather or for medicinal purposes.
    • 1584, William Barret[t], “The Money and Measures of Babylon, Balsara, and the Indies, with the Customes, &c. Written from Aleppo in Syria, Anno 1584”, in Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, [], imprinted at London: By George Bishop and Ralph Newberie, deputies to Christopher Barker, printer to the Queen's Most Excellent Majestie, published 1589, OCLC 753964576, page 219:
      A declaration of the places whence the goods ſubſcribed doe come. [...] Sumack, from Cyprus.
    • 1779, Gorges Edmond Howard, “Duties”, in An Abstract and Common Place of All the Irish, British, and English Statutes Relative to the Revenue of Ireland, and the Trade Connected therewith. [], London: Printed by the executors of David Hay, assignee of the late Boulter Grierson, [], OCLC 929132997, page 183:
      [B]y tanned hides or ſkins, or by tanned pieces of hides or ſkins, are meant only ſuch as are tanned in wooſe made of the bark of trees, or ſumack, or whereof the principal ingredients ſhall be ſuch bark, or ſumack; [...]
    • 1817, William Tucker, “On Dying Cottons, Dresses, Bed-furniture, &c. &c.”, in The Family Dyer and Scourer; being a Complete Treatise on the Whole Art of Cleaning and Dying: [], London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, [], OCLC 23929780, pages 102–103:
      In dying a Cotton Gown Black. [...] For a gown, take half a pint of ground shumac and put it into a sieve, and place it in a pan; then pour boiling water on it, and let the shumac water run into the pan; then put in your gown, and let it steep for six hours; [...]
    • 1850, J. W. Comfort, “Diseases of the Kidneys and Bladder”, in The Practice of Medicine on Thomsonian Principles, Adapted as well to the Use of Families as to that of the Practitioner. [], new and revised edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: For sale by A. Comfort, [], OCLC 8814494, section VI (Incontinence of Urine. (Involuntary Flow of Urine.)), page 238:
      Long continued inability to retain the urine, more especially when associated with old age, is in general an incurable complaint. Benefit may be obtained, however, by the use of such remedies as a strong tea of sumac, aspen poplar, vegetable balsams, spirits of turpentine, and gum myrrh.
    • 1870 January 10, “American Sumac”, in J. R. Dodge, editor, Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1869, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, OCLC 5814386, page 231:
      A great revolution is about to be witnessed in this tanning and dyeing material. Supplies have commenced to arrive from Virginia, United States, the quality of which is the best that has ever reached Great Britain. [...] In common fairness it must be added, however, that the very worst tests of the American are superior to the best of the Sicilian; this includes not only the sumacs of Virginia, but those of Maryland, Tennessee, &c. [Quoting Alexander Mcrae.]
    • 1985, Peter Balakian, “The Oriental Rug”, in Robert Pack and Jay Parini, editors, Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems, Hanover, N.H.; London: University Press of New England for Middlebury College Press, published 1997, →ISBN, part II, page 30:
      I feel the wool give way / as if six centuries of feet / had worn it back to the hard / earth floor it was made to cover. // Six centuries of Turkish heels / on my spine-dyed back: / madder, genista, sumac— / one skin color in the soil.
  3. A sour spice popular in the Eastern Mediterranean, made from the berries of tanner's sumac.
    • 2006, Rivka Goldman, “Bread with Spices”, in Mama Nazima’s Jewish-Iraqi Cuisine: Low-fat, Low-cholesterol: Cuisine, History, Cultural References and Survival Stories of the Jewish-Iraqi, New York, N.Y.: Hippocrene Books, →ISBN, page 159:
      The spices used in this bread are zaatar and sumack. [...] Sumack is a spice derived from the berries of a bush that grows wild in all Mediterranean areas. The berries are dried and crushed to form a coarse purple-red powder. It has a sour taste.
    • 2015, Ala Barzinji, “Simple Dishes”, in Traditional Kurdish Food: An Insight into Kurdish Culinary Heritage, Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire: Matador, →ISBN, page 172:
      Sumac is a berry from a bush which grows mostly in southern Italy and the Middle East. The berries are dried and crushed to make ground sumac, used in making many foods such as Yaprakh, Kinirmasee (fried artichoke) and salad.

Alternative forms[edit]


Derived terms[edit]



sumac (third-person singular simple present sumacs, present participle sumacing or sumacking, simple past and past participle sumaced or sumacked)

  1. (transitive) To apply a preparation of sumac to (an object), for example, to a piece of leather to tan it.
    • 1792, [Charles O’Brien], “Of Cleansing Goods, Previous to Maddering, or Boiling Off”, in A Treatise on Calico Printing, Theoretical and Practical: [], volume I, [London]: Printed for C. O’Brien, [] and sold by Bew, [], Richardson, [], Murray, [], OCLC 931168598:
      After this operation, the goods muſt be winched and well planked, or otherwiſe cleaned; they are then, according to the quality of them, to be ſumached, and then ſnitchelled off, and waſhed.
    • 1816, Thomas Packer, “On Dying Silk Black, According to M. [Pierre] Macquer”, in The Dyer’s Guide; being an Introduction to the Art of Dying [], London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, [], OCLC 752947650, page 90:
      Then lot 1 will be shumacked first time; that is, passed through a decoction of shumac, then through copperas, and then washed off, and if the decoction of shumac is kept up strong, after being all of them once shumacked they may be dried. [...] If the black liquor and the shumacking were powerful, some of them will shew themselves finished when dry.
    • 1853, David Smith, “Cotton-dyeing. [No. 39. Various Shades of Silver Drab.]”, in The Dyer’s Instructor: Comprising Practical Instructions in the Art of Dyeing Silk, Cotton, Wool, and Worsted and Woollen Goods, [], Philadelphia, Pa.: Henry Carey Baird, [], OCLC 30551547, page 70:
      A great variety of Blue Drabs can be dyed by first Sumaching the cotton, and then in another tub add a little Nitrate of Iron or Copperas liquor, and give a few turns.
    • 1869, Charles O’Neill, “Aniline Colors”, in A Dictionary of Dyeing and Calico Printing; [], Philadelphia, Pa.: Henry Carey Baird, [], OCLC 4117641, page 65:
      For dyeing on cotton, the cloth or yarn is steeped in sumac or tannic acid, dyed in the color, and then may be fixed by tin, or the cloth may be sumaced and mordanted as usual with tin and then dyed.
    • 1882 May 6, “The Manufacture of Leather”, in Scientific American Supplement, volume XIII, number 331, New York, N.Y.: Munn & Co., publishers [], OCLC 933312574, page 5279, column 1:
      Satin calf should be very carefully shaved to get a level substance; also extremely well set, scoured, sumacked, and sleaked out as other calf, but heavier stuffed, keeping the grain free from dubbing, seasoned and blacked as described for satin horse, and finished in the same way. [From the London Tanners' and Curriers' Journal.]
    • 1884 March 29, James Sharp, “Notes on Some of the Modes of Preparing, Bleaching, Dyeing, and Finishing Cotton Goods, Practised by Lancashire and Yorkshire Dyers, and Their Results”, in Watson Smith, editor, Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry. A Monthly Record for All Interested in Chemical Manufactures, volume III, number 3, Manchester: Emmot and Company, [], OCLC 605530007, page 145, column 1:
      I must now direct your attention to the goods, which, after having been crabbed in the way described, are brought on to these large jiggers, and the first process is to sumac or impregnate the cloth with any of the substances usually employed which are richest in tannin, after which the goods are saddened, as it is termed, as a rule, with solutions of salts of iron.
    • 1905 July, “Tanning Heavy Leather: Specimen Answers to the Questions Supplied by Dr. J. Gordon Parker of Harold’s Institute, London”, in The Leather Manufacturer: A Technological Journal, volume XVI, part 7, Boston, Mass.: Deming & Rogers, OCLC 751719325, page 115:
      Harness backs, previous to currying are wetted back in cold or tepid water for skiving; they are then thoroughly scoured, grain well cleaned, and re-shaved, or "flatted" on the flesh if necessary. They are then shumaced to brighten the color. Some makers shumac before flatting in drum tumblers.
    • 1906, Alexander Watt, “Currying”, in Leather Manufacture: A Practical Handbook of Tanning, Currying, and Chrome Leather Dressing, 5th revised and enlarged edition, New York, N.Y.: D[avid] Van Nostrand Company []; London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, OCLC 7595195, page 395:
      After they [calf skins for making shoes] are shaved, scour, flesh, and grain, give them a good sumacing, and let them lie for a day or two.
    • 1910, Louis A[ndrew] Flemming, “Section Eight. Methods of Bleaching Leather.”, in Practical Tanning: A Handbook of Modern Processes, Receipts, and Suggestions for the Treatment of Hides, Skins and Pelts of Every Description, [], 2nd revised and enlarged edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: Henry Carey Baird & Co., []; London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, [], OCLC 13117901, page 346:
      The leather should then be sumacked in a drum or paddle vat. [...] In a paddle vat, sumac the leather two to three hours. Keep it in motion and warm up the liquor when it gets too cool. After sumacking rinse the leather in lukewarm water, and a nice russet is the result, ready for colors or russet.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. ^ sumac, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 22 July 2019.
  2. ^ sumac, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2019; “sumac, n.” in Lexico,; Oxford University Press.

Further reading[edit]





sumac m (plural sumacs)

  1. sumac (tree)
  2. sumac (spice)

Further reading[edit]

Old French[edit]


sumac m (oblique plural sumas, nominative singular sumas, nominative plural sumac)

  1. sumac
    • 1377, Bernard de Gordon, Fleur de lis de medecine (a.k.a. lilium medicine), page 131-132 of this essay:
      et couvrir par quelconque cause que soit ou par sumac, ou par galles, ou par galbanum, ou par baing d’eaue froide, ou de vive, ou semblables.


  • English: sumac
  • French: sumac