As winter wanes and spring approaches, wild foodists all across North America tap into the time-honored tradition of sugar production – mainly, the transformation of maple tree sap into maple syrup and sugar. This process, passed on from the Native Americans to the early settlers, is still quite popular today, and is responsible for one of the few wild foods that can be purchased commercially in most supermarkets.
Most people associate syrup with the maple tree, and although much of today’s syrup does originate from the sugar maple, all species of maple can be tapped. Even better, many other trees from other genera can be tapped to extract sap, which ultimately can be turned into delicious syrup.
In this post, I won’t be discussing the methods involved in tapping for sugar production. If you are unfamiliar with the process, there are a variety of great websites, videos, and books to guide you. Rather, I would like to provide a list of various trees (maples, birches, walnuts, etc.) that you can tap successfully to yield wonderful, sugary products.
Now… before we get started, I’m wondering if you’re the kind of person who would rather watch a video than read a blog post. If that’s you, check out this recent video I created. In it, I discuss how to properly identify 4 trees — including 2 maple and 2 birch — that you can tap for sap and syrup production.
Okay… back to the list:
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
The sugar maple yields the highest volume and concentration of sap, making it a superior candidate for tapping. Its sugar content is approximately 2.0%.
Black maple (Acer nigrum)
Black maples produce as much sweet sap as sugar maples. The trees closely resemble sugar maples and can be distinguished by their leaves. Black maples tend to have leaves with three major lobes, while leaves from sugar maples have five lobes.
Red maple (Acer rubrum)
Sap yields from red maples are generally lower than those from sugar maples, although some tapping operations utilize only red maples. The trees bud out earlier in the spring, which may reduce syrup quality near the end of sugaring season.
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
Like red maples, silver maples bud out earlier in the spring and have a lower sugar content than sugar maples (1.7% compared to 2.0%).
Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
Native to Europe, Norway maples are now considered invasive throughout much of the United Sates. They are not as sweet as sugar maples, yet can be tapped regardless.
Boxelder (Acer negundo)
Also known as Manitoba maple, boxelders can be found growing in urban areas and along roadsides. They’re not recommended as a first choice for sugar production, although maple producers in the Canadian prairies rely almost exclusively on boxelders for their sap. Research suggests that boxelders may yield only half the syrup of typical sugar maples.
Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
Bigleaf maple is the main species of maple growing between central California and British Columbia. Native Americans have tapped these trees for centuries, and although the sugar content and sap flow are less than those from sugar maples, these trees can still provide a commercially viable source of syrup for the Pacific Coast.
Canyon maple, big tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum)
These trees are found primarily throughout the Rocky Mountain states. They also grow in Texas, where they are referred to as Uvalde bigtooth maples. The sugar content is comparable to that of sugar maples, but the volume produced is much less.
Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum)
Rocky Mountain maples are native to western North America, and have been used traditionally by various groups, including the Plateau Natives.
Gorosoe (Acer mono)
Gorosoe, which translates to “The tree that is good for the bones,” is the most commonly tapped maple tree in Korea. The sap is usually consumed fresh as a beverage, and not boiled down to a syrup.
Butternut, white walnut (Juglans cinerea)
The butternut produces a sap that yields roughly 2% sugar – similar to sugar maples. The timing and total volume of sap are also comparable to sugar maples.
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
The black walnut tree is a valuable timber species, whose sap flows in autumn, winter, and spring. It is more common in the Midwest than in the Northeastern United States.
Heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia)
A cultivar of Japanese walnuts, heartnuts have sugar contents comparable to sugar maples, but produce much less sap.
English walnut (Juglans regia)
These are the walnuts commonly eaten and purchased from supermarkets. They are not typically found in the Eastern United States, but rather are grown most abundantly in California. English walnut trees can be tapped successfully, especially when subjected to a freezing winter and spring.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)
The paper birch has a lower sugar content than sugar maple (less than 1%), but is the sweetest of the birch trees.
Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
The yellow birch tree has been found to have a higher mineral composition, lower sugar content, and a higher ORAC value (measure of antioxidant capacity) than sugar maple.
Black birch (Betula lenta)
Native to eastern North America, black birch is most popular for its use in making birch beer. And, as this list suggests, the black birch can be tapped.
River birch (Betula nigra)
Found growing abundantly in the southeastern United States, and planted as an ornamental in the Northeast, the river birch can successfully be tapped.
Gray birch (Betula populifolia)
Gray birch is more of a shrub than a tree, but may be tapped if it grows large enough.
European white birch (Betula pendula)
Native to Europe, and grown as an ornamental in urban and suburban areas of the United States, European white birch can be tapped.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Native to North America, the sycamore tree has a lower sugar content than sugar maple, yet is reported to produce a syrup that exudes a butterscotch flavor.
Ironwood, hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
These trees produce a sap later in the spring, although the sugar content and volume are much less than those from birch trees.
And there you have it – a list of 22 trees that can be tapped. This is by no means an exhaustive list, as other trees surely produce a sap that can be extracted through tapping. It is, however, a good representation of the most commonly tapped trees, including those that have been used traditionally for centuries, and some that are just recently gaining in popularity.
If you are fortunate to have access to any of the aforementioned trees – and the trees are healthy – explore the traditional art of sugar production by learning and participating in this beautiful craft.
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Reblogged this on Learning how to live free and commented:
Thanks for this list, I was wanting to collect my own next spring.
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Do the trees other than maple taste different than maple syrup? Walnut comes to mind in this question…
Great post, I know willow trees produce sap, but can it be made into syrup?
Has anyone ever done this, is it any good?
All deciduous trees push sap up at the start of spring, which have similar natures however they have differing levels of acidity. Tap and taste would be my advise. I have a birch on the go just to have a go.
You might want to Google the benefits of willow bushes & willow trees. Willow has the benefits of producing natural medicine similar to or being the original aspirin.
is there a specific variety of sugar maple that is the best for making syrup?
What about the Sweetgum tree?
Thanks for sharing this great list!
Just wanted to share my experience tapping a Norway Maple for any other wannabe urban homesteaders out there 🙂
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I wish to contact someone to buy somecsycamore sap please
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Very informative blog. Now I know which trees to get.
What about sassafras? This seems to be a topic of a fair-amount of interest and if it works should considerably simplify making traditional root-beer and other safrole based products. No digging roots, washing roots, chopping-up roots &c. My father made his own rootbeer about 100yrs ago. I’ve got plenty of bottles from where a guy with a beer distributorsip route gave me a case of light beer when I caught their escaped Cockatiel and managed to track down the owners—not an easy task. The bands on their legs are breeder-inventory related.
Boy can those things bite!
And scream. I think the “neighbors” thought I was murdering someone.
I’m sure I can get some corks. I’m sick&tired of distributors who distribute Royal Crown Cola putting it on high shelves which can’t be reached and the other products they distribute in easy reach. I’m also sick and tired of these points-of-sales with-whom we’re supposed to be so sympathetic for their supposed travails regarding the plandemic virusteria exploiting same to charge double for RC and other such products—pure unadulterated profiteeering. David Crockett told his constituents that if they elected his challenger they could all go to hell; he would go to Texas. And that’s just what he did.
So I’m going to start substituting everything I can find to make myself for the insufficient overpriced grocery-store items. I’m going to start fishing again. I’m going to teach myself to hunt small-game with a pre-charged pneumatic gun. And I’m going to grow my own cob-nuts ( evidently these are a dire threat to public health if made available—as they were *prior* to the declaration of plandemania—-in bulk-items sales). Well brick&mortars; if you’re not selling it I’m not buying it and if you’re charging double I’m not buying it either. And I’m not being herded into e-commerce.
So the brick& mortars can go to hell; I’m going to make my *own* soda. If my father could figure-it-out I 4sure can. He couldn’t even figure-out not falling asleep with a lit cigarette at the edge of an ashtray. I’ve saved this crap-shack from burning down about 5 times from a variety of causes.
Anyone with anything productive to add regarding tapping sassafras trees for production of traditional root beer please advise.
Whenever I think of something “original” I usually find out someone else beat me to it a long time ago.