In Chippewa, a’nina’tig, a sugar maple by any other name would taste as sweet. I’m not sure you’re going to come across another edible and medicinal plant quite as “Canadian” as this!
My sugar maples are young and mostly line the road-side of my property. Thankfully there is one on my property that’s large enough for a tap. Here’s a vlog post about my adventuring doing this on my own for the first time, with detailed information on making maple syrup!
Everyone is doing it. Almost every friend or acquaintance has tapped, or tap their trees each year. Some even have built “sugar shacks” devoted to the process. For many, it’s a cottage country “side hustle”.
Multiple wellwishers bring sap and syrup gifts to my door as spring heralds. I guess it’s our end of the winter version of leaving zucchini on your neighbor’s porch.
Edible Uses of Sugar Maple
The simplest edible use of sugar maple is to tap the tree after the first spring melt that flows, and drink the clear sap fresh (some boil it first to pasteurize, but I never have). The sap can also be used to make tea or coffee, or in place of water in recipes if a little sweetness is complimentary.
Of course, you can boil the sap down to maple syrup, or down farther for maple sugar. Some of my favorite uses of maple syrup are to candy sizzling bacon or drizzle on ice cream, and I’ve even tried said bacon on ice cream (FYI the vanilla was too overwhelming). The possibilities are endless.
Maple sap can also be fermented into vinegar, wine or liqueur.
You can also collect the winged seeds before fully ripe, in the summertime. Soak and remove the wings to retrieve the seeds, boil, drain, and season the seeds. Then roast 10-15 min.
Like most common trees, the inner bark has been used to make flour. Likely again a starvation food. But it sounds more promising than, say, inner white pine bark.
The Sap Is High in Calcium, B Vitamins, Phosphorus, and Enzymes
Medicinal Uses of Sugar Maple
Sugar maple is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes boiled leaves and inner bark for a liver tonic. And the usual astringent inner bark uses for skin and gargling.
I think sugar maple’s best medicine is the joy it brings to us after a long winter. It’s one of the first signals that we’re about to be released from the blistery cold. And who isn’t cheered up by sweets?
Alternative Uses of “Hard Maple”
Maple lumber has many uses but it in my cabin it’s main use is being some of the best firewood out there, burning hot and long.
There were maples cut in our logging heyday that they couldn’t transport. These were burned. They added water to the ashes, drained off the leached liquid into pots and boiled it down. The resulting residue became the potash industry. It was used for soap and more but went out of vogue.
Growing Native Maples
While I couldn’t get the last featured plant, white pine, growing in my shady lot, the sugar maple loves it here. They are very shade tolerant – they can handle just 4 hours of sun.
The leaves are loaded with minerals that enrich the forest floor and reduce acidity. A sugar maple forest is an excellent site for wildflowers like trillium to pop up from under thick fallen leaf cover first thing in the springtime.
There are other maples native to Haliburton too: striped, red, silver, mountain, Manitoba, black and Freeman’s.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants