This Lemonade Berry tree has almost completely taken over my front yard, surpassing our wildest intentions.
Once again, my brilliant Angel Boy didn’t think far enough into the future when we turned our front garden from lawn into a haven for California native plants.
Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia) is an evergreen shrub or small tree. It tends to grow upright (10- 30 feet tall), but sprawls next to beaches. It’s often found in coastal canyons where it sometimes dominates entire hillsides. (YES!)
The Lemonade Berry’s petioles are pink or brownish and leaf blades are leathery. The flowers appear from February to May. The fruit is red to gray and has a tart flavor which gives the plant its name. Lemonade Berry is an important wildlife plant and the berries are a significant food source for birds and small mammals.
The Cahuilla and other California native peoples 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.
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. Enjoy the bitter refreshing taste and spit the berry out when done.
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.Caution: Some people are allergic to the bark, roots, and leaves, so use it sparingly the first time.
Some info curated from Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council