Sumach (Rhus coriaria L.) is widely used as a spice. The aim of this study was the investigation of its DNA-protective effects in humans and animals. Prevention of the formation of strand breaks and oxidized DNA bases as well as the protection against H(2)O(2)- and (+/-)-anti-benzo[a]pyrene-7,8-dihydro-diol-9,10-epoxide (BPDE)-induced DNA-damage were monitored in human lymphocytes in a placebo controlled trial (N=8/group) with ethanolic extract of sumach (3.0g/day, 3 days) in single cell gel electrophoresis assays. Furthermore, DNA-protective effects of sumach were monitored in different inner organs of rats under identical conditions. No alteration of DNA-migration was detectable in human lymphocytes under standard conditions, but a decrease of the tail-lengths due to formation of oxidized purines and pyrimidines (52% and 36%) was found with lesion-specific enzymes. Also damage caused by H(2)O(2) and BPDE was significantly reduced by 30% and 69%, respectively. The later effect may be due to induction of glutathione S-transferase (GST). After the intervention, the overall GST (CDNB) activity in plasma was increased by 40%, GST-alpha by 52% and GST-pi by 26% (ELISA). The antioxidant effects of extract are probably due to scavenging which was observed in in vitro experiments, which also indicated that gallic acid is the active principle of sumach. The animal experiments showed that sumach also causes protection in inner organs. Supplementation of the drinking water (0.02g/kg per animal) decreased the formation of oxidized DNA bases in colon, liver, lung and lymphocytes; also after gamma-irradiation pronounced effects were seen.