For those who can’t grow pomegranates, consider sumac instead

Sumac is a shrub like tree or a tree like shrub that is an invasive plant in many areas. Types that have white berry clusters should be avoided as the white berries are poisonous but the types with clusters of red berry like seeds are safe to consume when made into a tea and they may be dried and ground into a spice. Native Americans use them in a lemonade like beverage and they are ground into a spice which is used in many Middle Eastern dishes and as a table condiment to sprinkle on foods to individual taste. The ground Sumac is mixed with salt or available plain in shaker bottles and is mixed with a few other spices in the blend called za’atar (sesame seed, salt, and thyme or hyssop).

Some of the phytonutrient content and medicinal properties  of edible sumac are similar to those found in pomegranate and may be associated with the bright red pigmentation. The botanical name for Sumac , ‘Rhus,’ translated as a foreign word means ‘red.’ Some people may be allergic skin reactions from touching the plant in nature (1) and as a more concentrated tea it has diuretic properties, which can have health benefits to help remove toxins if plenty of additional water is also consumed to prevent dehydration. (2)

Sumac is used medicinally in Arab countries. Studies on sumac extracts to date have indicated that the plant may be a source of bioproducts with the following bioactivities: antifibrogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, antiviral, cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic (Rayne and Mazza, 2007).” (1)

The lemonade like flavor would be from the terpene limonene and possibly other terpenes found in the plant. Anthocyanins likely give it some of the bright color. It also contains tannins primarily in the form of gallotannins, which are similar to the elligatannins/ellagic acid found in pomegranate, (3), and other aldehydes and beneficial acids that give it tartness including vitamin C – ascorbic acid. (1) Eating a large enough amount on a regular basis may be important for the health benefits from phytonutrients. Research with elligatannins has found them helpful for cancer prevention and somewhat for treatment (4) but a recent study that used a small dose, 900 mg of pomegranate extract per day, found some changes in important genes but not conclusive health benefits. (5) Research on tumor inhibiting properties of sumac found it beneficial during early stages when the tumor is developing rather than as a treatment after it was formed (animal study). (6) Animal based trials in more recent research that found benefits using pomegranate extract used doses that would be equivalent to larger doses, 1 to 10 grams/kilogram body weight per day. The study and amounts used are discussed in this post and the link is in this earlier post. A beneficial substance that we have to make for ourselves, Nrf2 may be involved. Tannins, anthocyanins, and aldehydes were all mentioned as being helpful for helping promote our own body’s ability to produce more Nrf2. The gallic acid (related chemically to the gallotannins, the mango fruit is also a source (8)) is mentioned to help induce apoptosis in cancer cells (cell death) in an article discussing the role of oxidative stress in cancer treatment. (7)

“Gallic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, GA), a polyhydroxy phenolic compound, is abundant in natural plants such as gallnut, grapes, sumac, oak bark, green tea apple peels, grapes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, lemons, and in red and white wine. Its antioxidative DNA-damage action has been well documented []. However, gallic acid induces apoptosis in several cancer cell lines by increasing ROS level and GSH depletion [].” (7)

That excerpt is from a section titled: 5.1. Anticancer ROS-Generating Compounds from Natural Origin(7), which also contains information on other phytonutrients and foods that contain them that have been found beneficial for preventing or treating cancer or reducing oxidative stress.

I bought some dried sumac prepared for table use but chose a brand without salt added to it so I could use as much as I want without having to be concerned about adding too much salt. The aroma and flavor are good and the color is very pretty, slightly more purplish than paprika but similar in the bright addition it makes when sprinkled on the surface of a food. It was $3.99 for a 9.33 ounce bottle at a Middle Eastern foods grocery store.

Phytonutrients with bright colors often seem to be associated with health benefits but that doesn’t mean all wild berries or plants are edible. Read guides and know what you’re harvesting before eating it – and avoid private property and nature preserves where it might be illegal to pick anything.

They are so common in some areas that I happen to have picture taken on a recent walk. A discussion with more detail and a close up image taken during late summer is available here: The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, EdibleEastEnd.com. (2)

Wild sumac seed pod in wintertime.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Sumac – an overview, ScienceDirect Topics, sciencedirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/sumac
  2. Ronald Halweil, The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, Edible East End, August 9, 2012, EdibleEastEnd.com,   https://www.edibleeastend.com/2012/08/09/harvest-sumac/
  3. J. P. PerchelletH. U. GaliE. M. PerchelletP. E. LaksV. BottariR. W. Hemingway, and A. ScalbertAntitumor-Promoting Effects of Gallotannins, Ellagitannins, and Flavonoids in Mouse Skin In Vivo
    Food Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention, Chapter 25, pp 303–327
    Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 546, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025
  4. Tariq Ismail, Cinzia Calcabrini, Anna Rita Diaz, Carmela Fimognari, Eleonora Turrini, Elena Catanzaro, Saeed Akhtar, and Piero Sestili,

    Ellagitannins in Cancer Chemoprevention and Therapy. Toxins (Basel). 2016 May; 8(5): 151. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885066/

  5. Nuñez-Sánchez MA, González-Sarrías A, García-Villalba R, et al, Gene expression changes in colon tissues from colorectal cancer patients following the intake of an ellagitannin-containing pomegranate extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Apr;42:126-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 27.    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28183047
  6. Perchellet, J.P., Gali, H.U.Perchellet, E.M.Laks, P.E.et al., Antitumor-promoting effects of gallotannins, ellagitannins, and flavonoids in mouse skin in vivo  [1994], ACS symposium series, ISSN : 0097-6156, Source: Information Systems Division, National Agricultural Library, http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US9602151

  7. Giuseppina Barrera, Oxidative Stress and Lipid Peroxidation Products in Cancer Progression and Therapy., ISRN Oncol. 2012; 2012: 137289.  
       https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483701/
  8. Gallotannins, Science Direct, ScienceDirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/gallotannins

Why care about health? It’s about statistics.

The rate of cancer incidence has increased greatly in many countries and is expected to continue to increase, particularly in association with the aging of the population. Cancer is more often a diagnosis after age 65.  The rate of thyroid cancer in particular has increased greatly in women. The rate of developing some type of cancer during one’s lifetime is expected to reach 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women by the yea 2050, (MedScape) – or a more general 1 in 2 people, (medicalnewstoday) – those are not good odds.

It is common during youth to feel secure about health but our bodies tend to run out of stored nutrients as we age and metabolic pathways that we depend on to rebuild muscle and remove toxins or defective cells can become less effective. A healthy immune system also protects us from our own body’s normal rebuilding/regrowth of new cells. Defective ones are typically removed from growth areas in bone marrow before they enter circulation. Cancer cells are also removed on a regular basis when our immune systems are healthy.

Magnesium deficiency is a topic I keep stressing because the immune cells require magnesium in order to perform the apoptosis, killing, of defective or precancerous cells. The body’s defense systems are well developed but need fuel on a daily basis in order to be able to function as nature designed. While immune cells need magnesium in order to purposefully kill defective cells by apoptosis ( an enzyme is inserted into the cell which causes it to die and then the immune cell engulfs the debris and removes it for detoxification and excretion from the body), a cell that is deficient in magnesium or calcium may also undergo apoptosis due to the deficiency. (magnesium and apoptosis)

Too little Nrf2 may reduce immune system and antioxidant health but too much can be a problem in cancer cells that grow too rapidly. (Nrf2 overproduction and cancer)

Another person writing about the recent research in the area of Nrf2 shares more information about foods that help promote Nrf2 and how nature may have built in a mechanism within some foods that help prevent an over production of the important protein (Nrf2). See: “Activate Nrf2, then optimize: Brussel Sprouts.” – Bill Lagokos (patreon) /Spoiler, if not a fan of Brussel Sprouts the healthy phytonutrient that is discussed is also found in cruciferous vegetables including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and kale.

I personally am more sensitive to the group, especially if served raw or in larger quantities, but find steamed kale everyday tolerable to my digestive system. The bloating effect may be due to our good guy bacteria enjoying the fiber rich vegetables so much they produce the excess gas – but it can be a sign of healthy bacteria in our digestive tract. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be affected by any food that causes bloating effects possibly due to TRP channel’s being activated by increased pressure. People with a history of IBS and other chronic pain syndromes may be suffereing from an underlying issue with overactive TRP ion channels. IBS and TRP channels are discussed on this site in a previous post. TRP channels are discussed in more detail with links on another website: Chronic Itch, migraines, IBS and stress; – that is one part frm a longer series: Relaxation and Stress, which is continued in:  Preeclampsia & TRP Channels.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Pomegranate peel may be the best part – medicinally

I’ve been experimenting with making pomegranate peel extract and it may be the best part medicinally but is quite acidic and quite bitter. Mary Poppins sang that a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down and she is on to something. Medicinal herbs may be the bitter ones.  Sugar does help with the taste, but excess amounts of it can help worsen inflammation, so just a spoonful is important. Diluting with extra water and adding a concentrated fruit juice also helped with flavor.

I’m taking notes but am still in the testing phase so this is a summary – yes it seems possible to make an extract from the peel and inner membrane part of the pomegranate. The taste is something that a sick person would tolerate because feeling better is worth a lot including drinking something not very good as quickly as possible. However the healthy person is still likely to prefer the pomegranate juice or juicy crunch of the seeds. If there are seasonal issues one simple experiment worked well – the juicy seeds freeze quite nicely so making a large batch of peel and membrane extract could include simply freezing the seeds for later use in salads or as a sweet and tangy treat. The juice is also tart but the peel extract I made was more acidic than coffee I added baking soda to make it less acidic and easier for the digestive system to tolerate.

The extract did help more of my symptoms than the seeds do. I’ve had early signs of finger numbness, possibly Raynaud’s Disease/Syndrome, which doesn’t really have any treatments. The extract helped restore feeling to my fingers but it was temporary, just that day so the larger quantity of the treatment mentioned in the last post on this topic which used 1 – 10 grams/kilogram for 8 weeks for hepatocellular carcinoma might be best spread out through the day for someone with a more severe illness. Half a cup per day for someone less ill and a half a cup every three to four hours throughout the hours spent awake for someone who is more severely ill might be what helps symptoms. If every cell of the body needs the substances, every hour of the twenty-four, then one dose one time per day might leave the body under-treated for most of the 24 hours and only relieve symptoms for a few hours.

Raynaud’s Syndrome/Disease is referred to by both names. It was mentioned in the search engine results but the article is only available as an Abstract which doesn’t mention any specific conditions: (1). The condition is discussed in an full text available article on oxidative stress and Nrf2. It mentions green tea extracts and Gingko biloba as possibly helping reduce oxidative stress: Review Article: Oxidative Damage and Antioxidative Therapy in Systemic Sclerosis,   (2).

Gingko biloba is also mentioned along with Raynaud’s Disease in this article. A standard dosage is mentioned as being used once or twice per day: “The standard clinical dose of EGb 761 is 120 mg (~1.7 mg/kg) once or twice daily;” Egb is a standardized formulation that contains a certain amount of the active phytonutrients of the Gingko biloba herb which are called gingkolides. It is a traditional herb that was used in cooking and as a medicine in Chinese and Japanese history for conditions such as asthma or as a cough medicine. In the discussion of Future Directions for research the authors suggest more study of dosing as the amount used in preclinical trials was significantly more than used in many clinical trials, “(100 mg/kg compared to <2 mg/kg, respectively),” although some used a larger dose, (300 mg daily).  (3).

I do take a capsule of Gingko biloba daily but not the Egb formulation. The dose I have been using is 60 mg standardized to include “24% Gingko Flavoglycosides = 14.4 mg and 6% Terpene Lactones = 3.6 mg” – which suggests it is a fairly low dose compared to some of the research studies that used 100-300 mg of the Egb formulation. (3)The Egb formulation also includes flavanoids which include one that has been found to help increase Nrf2:

“Beyond oxidant scavenging, the flavonoid isorhamnetin was able to upregulate antioxidant enzymes through Nrf2 activation.(3).

Take home point – clinical trials are a lot of work and accurate dosing, both amount used, concentration of the active phytonutrients, and frequency the dose is used throughout the day, and how large the patient is, are all important factors for effectiveness of the herbal preparation at relieving symptoms of a disease or preventing chronic illness.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. DaigoSumiAikoManjiYasuhiroShinkaiTakashiToyamaYoshitoKumagai., Activation of the Nrf2 pathway, but decreased γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase heavy subunit chain levels and caspase-3-dependent apoptosis during exposure of primary mouse hepatocytes to diphenylarsinic acid., Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Vol. 223Issue 3, 15 September 2007, Pages 218-224.    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X07002633 (1)
  2. Bogna Grygiel-Górniak and Mariusz Puszczewicz,Review Article: Oxidative Damage and Antioxidative Therapy in Systemic Sclerosis, Mediators of Inflammation, vol 2014 (2014), Article ID 389582, 11 pages. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2014/389582/. (2)
  3. Kevin M. Nash and Zahoor A. Shah., Current Perspectives on the Beneficial Role of Ginkgo biloba in Neurological and Cerebrovascular Disorders., Integr Med Insights. 2015; 10: 1–9.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4640423/ (3)