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.
Let’s stay in touch! To receive information from Adam Haritan on wild plant and mushroom identification, please enter your name and email address below. Thank you!
Additionally, don’t forget to check out the Facebook and Instagram pages to learn more about wild food nutrition and identification!
Nice list but don’t tap Norway maples as the sap is “milky”
Reblogged this on Southgajd's Blog.
There is also the Australian gum. Settlers used it to make alcoholic beverages.
Any specific variety/s, please?
I am so excited I could find this again. Have acres of black walnuts, hope to tap them this fall (and winter?) Any more details about timing on black walnuts? (I just looked online and find nothing.)
Hi Shodo Spring,
A study published in 2006 suggests that the period between January and March is a good time to tap black walnut trees, at least in Kansas. Here is a free pdf of the study, with information on how to properly time sap flow in the black walnut tree: http://www.gpsaf.unl.edu/gppubs/bwsyrup.pdf
Thanks for commenting!
I am buying 22 sugar maple tree at the store
Don’t forget Shagbark Hickory: http://hickoryworks.com/
Thank you for sharing this information. You’re right, shagbark hickory can produce a wonderful syrup. I did not include it in this list because, unlike the trees listed in this article, the process involved with shagbark hickory does not involve the tree sap but rather the bark (which can be toasted, extracted as a tea, then combined with sugar). Thank you for commenting!
Wonderful to have this all in one place!!! Thank-you! We are just starting to tap our Manitoba Maples…had some help from a local Birch Syrup farmer!
You’re welcome… Thanks for reading and commenting! Never had Manitoba maple sap or syrup before. Let me know how it is!
Great blog! We have a new monastery and this is just what we needed! Thanks! Fr. Alexii
Fr. Alexii Altschul,
You’re welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting! I appreciate it.
Oh so grateful to have found this through farmingthewoods.com
I’m looking to convert some pasture into a glorious food forest. Would silver leaf maple be the first of this list to get to a tapable size?? Seems like a great pioneer to start with.
Thank you for sharing Adam!
I like the valuable info you provide for your articles.
I’ll bookmark your blog and take a look at
once more here regularly. I’m reasonably sure I will be told lots of new stuff proper right here!
Best of luck for the following!
Don’t forget the Date Palm tree, the syrup of which can be drunk as a sweet beverage or boiled to make natural dark sugar.
Have you heard of tapping beech trees? I have one in my front yard and would love to know if it’s good to tap.
A beech tree isn’t poisonous, so it’d probably be OK to at least give it a try and see what happens. I don’t know the yield though.
Medicinal Mushroom guide…please
What would happen if you tapped an apple tree or a cherry tree? Fruity sap for fruity syrup?
“What would happen if you tapped an apple tree or a cherry tree? Fruity sap for fruity syrup?” These trees don’t drip sap when cut/drilled. I’ve been tapping many different varieties of maple trees for years, but will try tapping sycamore this year.
Reblogged this on >>reclaiming the wild<<.
Have been tapping the Manitoba maple tree here in Saskatchewan, for the past 20 years. This spring is year 21,the second year for the updated equipment ,of the pipeline,the vaccum, an the revers osmosis. Will be happy to give an up date after this spring Am very interested in the mushrooms and other plants that have medicinal value
How about ” Hickory”? I know of people who make tea from the bark.I think I will give it a try.
I have been making maple syrup for years, this year, I am making coffee, and teas with my sap, instead of water. WOW! What a treat!
Hey have a few questions on saps that a safe to use. Im looking for a sap a lot like pine? Sticky and thick. I know pine trees have carcinogens in the saps and is out of the question for any use. Any suggestions? It doesn’t need to be sweet. And when’s the best time of year too tap trees for their sapps?
Now have done the maple syurp for 21 years and need to know about other trees to tap in the area. We would like to make this a full time
My girl collects sap from the pine trees here in Northern California. She makes a very pleasant aromatic incense out of it. I never thought you could possibly make a “syrup” to cover my pancakes with.
Anyway, that’s not my question or the tree i’m inquiring about. Eucalyptus. They seem to drink large amounts of water and i think a large percentage of its weight is water. Is it possible to extract its “sap” in the same manner you suggest of the maples?
Are the any trees that are poisonus or do they just not taste good?
Can the sap of these trees be co-mingled (mixed together) and boiled down for a syrup?
You can, yes. I’ve read of this being done with butternut/maple to make a mixed walnut maple syrup.
Also: missing from this list is the red alder of the pacific northwest, which can be tapped for a syrup that (supposedly) tastes like bananas.
Very informative thanks. I will have a read about some of the English trees you can tap (as i’m in the UK). Does it have to be spring to tap or is it throughout the summer, limited as it is in the UK. The more I read about tree the more I realise they are the source of life 🙂