Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Lemonade Berry
Rhus integrifolia

The leaves are rich in tannin. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant[169].

An oil is extracted from the seeds[4]. It attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke[4].

Wood – hard, heavy[82]. It is valued and largely used as a fuel[82].

  • Medicinal Use

    None known

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked[2, 62, 82, 161]. The fruit is covered with a pleasant acid-tasting exudation that can be sucked[84, 92]. The fruit is small, up to 10mm in diameter[229], with very little flesh, but it is produced in fairly large panicles and so is easily harvested. When soaked for 10 – 30 minutes in hot or cold water it makes a very refreshing lemonade-like drink (without any fizz of course)[84, 94, 95]. The mixture should not be boiled since this will release tannic acids and make the drink astringent[183].

    The leaves have been chewed to assuage thirst[257].

    The roasted fruit is a coffee substitute.

  • Cautionary Notes

    There are some suggestions that the sap of this species can cause a skin rash in susceptible people, but this has not been substantiated. See also notes in 'Cultivation Details'.

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 – 90c and allowing it to cool) prior to sowing in order to leach out any germination inhibitors[200]. This soak water can be drunk and has a delicious lemon-flavour. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame[200]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. It might be wise to grow the plants on in pots for a few years before planting out – see notes in ‘Cultivation Details'[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame[200]. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage[78, 200]. Suckers in late autumn to winter[200].
Succeeds in a well-drained fertile soil in full sun[11, 200]. Succeeds in a hot dry position. This species is not very hardy in Britain, it may not succeed outdoors even in the mildest areas of the country[200]. One report says they can tolerate temperatures down to about -5¡c[260]. Older plants become somewhat hardier and so it is worthwhile growing them on for a few years in pots with some winter protection (such as a cold greenhouse)[K]. Some 4 year old plants were cut back to the base by temperatures below -5¡c on our Cornish trial grounds, but they resprouted from the base in early summer[K]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. Plants usually form thickets in the wild[229]. Plants have brittle branches and these can be broken off in strong winds[200]. Plants are also susceptible to coral spot fungus[11]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Many of the species in this genus are highly toxic and can also cause severe irritation to the skin of some people, whilst other species such as this one are not poisonous. It is relatively simple to distinguish which is which, the poisonous species have axillary panicles and smooth fruits whilst non-poisonous species have compound terminal panicles and fruits covered with acid crimson hairs[1, 4]. The toxic species are sometimes separated into their own genus, Toxicodendron, by some botanists[200]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
South-western N. America – California.

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*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.