Plant applications

The Health Benefits Of Drinking Maple Tree Sap

maplesapwildfoodismIf you’ve ever tapped a maple tree, surely you’ve tasted the fresh sap – unprocessed and unboiled – straight from the tree.

If you have never tapped a maple tree, perhaps you’ve got one of those nice neighbors who generously shares his or her bounty of maple sap.  Or perhaps you’ve even purchased and consumed any of the various “maple waters” on the market today.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about (…tree sap? What the heck is that?), allow me to put this into context.

In late winter/early spring, sap rises in certain trees (i.e. maples and walnuts) due to temperature fluctuations – notably, the freeze/thaw cycle.  In other species (i.e. birches), sap flow is governed by root pressure that forms once soil temperatures reach approximately 50° Fahrenheit.  This sap contains water and dissolved nutrients (i.e. sugars) that travel up towards the branches, feeding the developing leaves.

If you’re interested in learning which trees produce sap during this season, check out this recent video I filmed.  In it, I discuss key identifying characteristics regarding 4 tappable trees, including 2 maples and 2 birches.

Let’s continue the story. 

Whenever these trees are wounded during this particular season, sap will flow from inside the trees (sapwood) out through their wounds.  Such is the case whenever we tap a tree by placing a hole into its bark.  This sap, after collection and prolonged exposure to heat, can be eventually reduced into syrup.

But wait!  Before we boil down our precious sap, transforming it into one of nature’s finest sweeteners, we can appreciate this subtly-sweet liquid for all that it is.

In other words, we can drink it.  Call me old school, but I like to drink sap unprocessed, consuming whatever I can at the source and storing the rest in containers.

Now, I am familiar with the warning that one ought to boil the sap first, as there’s a possibility that it may harbor pathogenic organisms.  If we’re managing a clean operation, however, I believe this fear isn’t always warranted.  Still, use your best judgement.

Maple sap, depending on the species, contains varying levels of sugars – notably sucrose.  Sap from the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), for example, is approximately 2% sugar.

sucrosewildfoodism

For the wild food chemists:  Sucrose, commonly known as “table sugar” — the predominating sugar in maple sap.

For this reason, maple sap imparts a delicate, sweet taste to the palate, one that becomes extremely concentrated during the sap’s conversion into syrup.  While I certainly enjoy maple sap for its delectable late-winter sweetness, I also appreciate its content of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, polyphenols, and other health-promoting compounds.

You see, many people are aware that maple syrup confers numerous health benefits, typically dependent to some degree on color.  In this article, I’d like to explore the health benefits associated with its often overlooked forebear, a mystifying substance that surely deserves more attention.

Introducing…

The benefits of maple sap

But first, a little history…

While maple syrup is certainly beloved by its largest producer, North America, perhaps no other country utilizes and appreciates maple sap more so than South Korea.  It is here where villagers climb the hills every year to collect sap from a maple tree known as “Gorosoe” (Acer mono).  This tradition spans almost an entire millennium.  Traditionally, villagers would create V-shaped incisions into the trees and channel the sap away with bamboo leaves.  Today, the operation is much more modernized, incorporating plastic spouts, tubing, and large holding tanks.  Unlike in North America where most sap is turned into maple syrup, Koreans drink the sap with no further processing, or instead use it as cooking water.

Okay, now onto the benefits…

Maple sap improves osteoporosis-like symptoms

“Gorosoe” translates to “the tree that is good for the bones.”  Sure, the name sounds promising, but is there any truth to it?

For starters, sap from Acer mono has been shown to contain an impressive mineral analysis, including 16 times the potassium, 37 times the calcium, and 3.9 times the magnesium contents of spring water.  All 3 of these minerals are essential for optimal bone health.

To test the bone-supporting effects of maple sap on biological systems, researchers carried out experiments where they put mice on low-calcium diets and supplemented them with various concentrations of A. mono sap (1).  Mice who were supplemented with both 50% and 100% maple sap concentrations retained normal serum calcium levels, compared to the lower serum calcium levels of mice fed spring water only and 25% maple sap.

Additionally, in the spring water-fed and 25% maple sap-fed groups, thigh bone density and length were significantly reduced, compared to the mice fed higher concentrations of maple sap.  The researchers concluded that 50% sap solution could mitigate osteoporosis-like symptoms induced by a low-calcium diet, and they attributed its mechanism to calcium ion absorption.

Maple sap prevents gastric ulcer formation

Injury to the mucosal lining of the stomach can lead to stomach ulcers.  Common causes include infection by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and excessive consumption of alcohol.  If stomach ulcers are left untreated, they can eventually lead to gastric cancer.

Can something as simple (and tasty) as maple sap prevent these conditions from occurring?  Researchers think so.

To test their hypothesis, researchers subjected mice to a procedure intended to cause stress-induced gastric lesions (2).  Before the researchers carried out their experiments, however, the mice were pretreated with various supplements:

  • One group received L-arginine, an amino acid known to prevent stress-induced gastric mucosal lesions.
  • A second group received omeprazole, a prescription drug used to treat stomach ulcers.
  • A third group received a freeze-dried powder of Acer mono sap.
  • A fourth group (the placebo group) received a single saline administration.

Results were … well … quite impressive!

After being subjected to the stress experiments for 6 hours, the mice in the placebo group displayed abundant lesions, on average 1-2 mm in size.  The mice who received L-arginine and omeprazole developed very few lesions.  Remarkably, the mice who received maple sap prior to the stress experiments did not present any small or large sized corrosions.

(!!!)

In other words, not only was maple sap effective, it was more effective than L-arginine and omeprazole in protecting against gastric mucosal lesions.  The mechanism behind maple sap’s protective effects seems to be related to its ability to significantly lower the mRNA expression of iNOS and nNOS, two enzymes that have been shown to play key roles in the formation of gastric lesions.

Researchers concluded that A. mono sap can be used as an ulcer remedy or for other preventive and nutraceutical purposes.

Maple sap lowers blood pressure

Like Acer mono, Acer okamotoanum is another species of maple found in Korea.  Sap concentrations of calcium, potassium, and magnesium are 37, 20, and 3.9 times higher than the levels found in spring water.  Just as calcium and potassium are two minerals that function in supporting optimal bone health, they also play a role in regulating blood pressure.

Acerokamotoanumwildfoodism

Acer okamotoanum, a species of maple native to Korea. Source: http://www.asianflora.com

To test the blood pressure-lowering effects of A. okamotoanum sap, researchers fed hypertensive rats spring water supplemented with 25%, 50%, or 100% maple sap (3).  Compared to the rats fed only commercial spring water, the rats supplemented with all concentrations of maple sap experienced reductions in blood pressure.

Researchers attributed the blood pressure-lowering effect of A. okamotoanum sap to its concentration of potassium ions.  As an added benefit, body weight also decreased in the rats fed 50% and 100% maple sap concentrations.

Maple sap prevents hangovers

Originally, the title of this section was “Maple sap facilitates alcohol metabolism,” which is probably the more accurate phrasing of what I’m about to describe.  But hey, sometimes you just gotta use sensationalism to capture your audience’s attention!  Anyway…

As previously stated, A. okamotoanum sap contains various electrolytes (the dissolved mineral ions of calcium, magnesium, and potassium).  Because alcohol consumption has a physiological effect on the absorption, elimination, and serum concentrations of electrolytes and minerals, researchers wanted to see what effect, if any, A. okamotoanum sap had on alcohol metabolism in rats.

Researchers administered concentrations of 25%, 50%, and 100% maple sap to rats, 30 minutes prior to receiving alcohol (4).  Compared with the rats fed alcohol without any maple sap, the rats who were pretreated with maple sap demonstrated significant reductions 5 hours later in the blood concentrations of both alcohol and acetaldehyde – a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism.

Additionally, mRNA expression of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), two liver enzymes necessary for alcohol metabolism, was significantly increased in the rats pretreated with maple sap (increased is a good thing in this case).  The results suggest that, at least in rats, consuming maple sap prior to ingesting alcohol can increase the rate at which alcohol is metabolized in the body.  The researchers also concluded that maple sap may reduce oxidative stress associated with alcohol consumption.

hangoverwildfoodism

Should’ve consumed maple sap first!

Maple sap supports a healthy immune response

Whenever our bodies are exposed to pathogenic microbes, our immune systems heed the call to action.  In particular, white blood cells known as neutrophils congregate at the site of infection and engulf (think swallow) the offending microbes.  Once the pathogens are engulfed, enzymes within our bodies generate substances known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) that, through oxidation, eliminate the bad guys.

This latter process – of generating reactive oxygen species –  is necessary in order to remove pathogens, but it can also inflict damage inside our bodies.  Oxidation is an on-going process, but too much of it can be a bad thing.  Regulation, therefore, is necessary in order to balance this delicate dance between eliminating pathogens while minimally damaging host tissue.  Maple sap (A. okamotoanum) may indeed help.

To test this hypothesis, researchers treated mice, rats, and canines with a compound known to impair the immune system, then administered increasing concentrations of A. okamotoanum sap (5).  Results showed that treatment with maple sap stimulated the activity of neutrophils (immune cells) in mice, rat and canines.  Additionally, the sap enhanced the last step in this process – the elimination of microbes using ROS.

While this study was performed on animals, the researchers concluded that A. okamotoanum sap may have potential antimicrobial effects for patients with infection.

Maple sap contains antioxidants

As mentioned previously, oxidation is a natural process in the human body that, if left unchecked, can result in conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few).  Antioxidants combat the process of oxidation, and can be produced internally as well as provided externally through the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods – for example, the sugar maple.

The sugar maple (Acer saccharum), a species native to North America, yields the highest volume and concentration of sap, making it a superior candidate for tapping.  Its sugar content is approximately 2.0%.

Acersaccharumwildfoodism

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum).  Credit: Albert Herring

Antioxidants within the sap of A. saccharum have the ability to scavenge the superoxide radical (6) – a potentially destructive molecule that has been implicated in numerous diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (7, 8).

Out of 10 compounds analyzed in sugar maple sap for their antioxidant effects, only 3 of these are found in maple syrup from the sugar maple.  What this means is that several antioxidant compounds are seemingly lost in the transformation from sap into syrup.  Perhaps this is one of many benefits to consuming maple sap in its fresh form.

Summary of health benefits:  Sap from various maple trees has been shown to provide support for osteoporosis, prevent gastric ulcer formation, lower blood pressure, mitigate alcoholic hangovers, support a healthy immune system, and offer dietary antioxidants.

Now, I understand that most of the research cited in this article involved animals as test subjects.  We – Homo sapiens –  are animals, sure, though clearly not of the mouse, rat, nor dog type.  Therefore, the academic in me will say that “though certainly promising, we cannot entirely extrapolate these findings to humans.”  Very dry, I know.  But really, researchers will claim that just because maple sap lowers blood pressure in rats doesn’t mean that it’ll do the same to you and me.

Also, I understand that most of the research on maple sap pertains to species of maple that aren’t native to the continent that produces the most maple syrup.  Out of the 6 primary research articles I reviewed, only one used the species of maple nearest and dearest to most American tapping enthusiasts – the sugar maple, Acer saccharum.  Therefore, we cannot definitively say that the sap from all species of maple will produce the exact same effects on biological systems.

However, the benefits outlined in this article should not be dismissed solely because animals were the test subjects, or because geographically-irrelevant tree species were used.  That’s nonsense.  There is no doubt that all maple sap, regardless of species, possesses an array of physiologically-active compounds including vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and antioxidants that all confer important health benefits.

For example, sap from both the sugar and red maple (A. rubrum) has been shown to contain compounds that demonstrate anti-cancer effects (9).  Sap from the sugar maple has also been shown to inhibit nitric oxide formation, a process implicated in numerous diseases (10).

If you ask me, I’d say that all maple sap possesses therapeutic potential, and I certainly wouldn’t limit the benefits to only a handful of species.

Additionally, I feel that not only can one acquire substantial benefits by consuming pure maple sap – straight from the tree, no further processing necessary – but I feel there’s another level of therapy to be gained through the actual process of harvesting the sap oneself.  No middle man or woman… just you and the maple tree, joined together in communion by the elixir that imbues life to both it and you.

What do you think?  Maple sap for the win?  If you’ve never imbibed, I highly encourage you to try it.  One sip could change your whole life (sorry, no research to back that up). 🙂


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How To Receive The Benefits Of Chaga … Without Consuming Chaga

chagawildfoodismStanding under the protruding, irregularly-shaped black mass, it’s hard to imagine anyone would make a fuss about this fungus.

I mean, look at it.  Certainly there are mushrooms that could seemingly outperform chaga in a beauty contest.  There’s hardly a debate about that.

It’s not a prized edible fungus, either.  Chaga is essentially a hardened mass of mycelia and much too tough to chew (though I have been known to nibble on the interior amadou from time to time).

So why is it that photographs of chaga (or growths that people want to look like chaga) inundate most mushroom identification forums with the accompanying million dollar question, “Is this chaga?”  Why is it that every nutraceutical company seems to market a chaga-containing supplement?

And why is it that chaga is so near and dear to my heart, routinely forming the foundation of my personal medicinal protocol?

Simple, really.  Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) truly is a great medicine – not because the latest health magazine said so, but because it passes two important criteria when evaluating credibility:  1) Chaga retains historical use as a medicine, and 2) Chaga has been well researched, demonstrating diverse pharmacological activity in numerous scientific studies.  Yet, as it turns out, the same holds true for many other wild species – including mushrooms, plants, and yes… even animals.

But never mind that last sentence…

The word has gotten out.  Chaga is apparently the medicinal superstar of the fungal kingdom.  This prestigious prize, however, is awarded at a cost.

Supplement companies are capitalizing on its value, requiring a continuous supply of the fungus for sales.  Mushroom hunters are seeking out the wild conks, and in some cases poor harvesting techniques are utilized, causing more harm than is needed.

Chaga, without a doubt, performs an essential role in its ecosystem, and any unnecessary disturbance to this balance could potentially produce disastrous long-term consequences.  Paul Stamets has discussed this issue in depth while suggesting a shift toward the use of cultivated chaga mycelium as a solution (1).

For some of us, sustainability is a concern.  Yet for others, access to wild chaga is the issue.  Many of us do not live in a habitat that hosts this fungus.

What are we to do in these particular instances?

You see, as remarkable as this organism is, it’s not the only one that can do what it does.  Many other species impart similar benefits to the human body when ingested, and in some cases, these species contain the same exact chemicals and compounds that are responsible for chaga’s effects.  Sometimes (gasp), other species medicinally outperform our beloved chaga (I know, I know… in the words of Metallica, “Sad But True”).

What does all of this mean?

Well, it just so happens we can essentially receive the benefits of the chaga mushroom … without consuming chaga.

Now, before we proceed, I’ll provide this little disclaimer:  Yes, I am aware that an organism cannot be reduced down to its chemical components.  I have written about this in the past.  We cannot simply create the whole of anything from its myriad parts.  Nature doesn’t work like that.  Chaga constitutes much more than every compound ever isolated from it, and to suggest we can fully substitute this fungus with another species – while receiving all of its exact benefits – is silly.  This article is meant to provide options on how we can receive similar health benefits using a variety of plant and fungal medicines in the event we do not have access to chaga, and ultimately in an effort to protect and preserve the niche that chaga occupies in the wild.

Sound good?  Great!  Let’s proceed…

Triterpenes

Have you spoken to anyone lately about the medicinal actions of chaga?  Mm hm.  And did they happen to mention the word “triterpenes?”  Mm hm.  Thought so.  Speak to anyone about the medicinal actions of chaga, and this is a term you’ll most likely hear.  Triterpenes.  What the heck are those?

The simple answer (chemists, bear with me) is that triterpenes are naturally occurring compounds that provide a wide spectrum of biological activity.  They’re extremely common in nature.  Why should we care?  Well, triterpenes happen to be quite medicinal.

Chaga is notoriously hailed for two of its medicinal compounds: betulin and its derivative, betulinic acid (2, 3).  Betulin is a triterpene, while betulinic acid is a derivative of a triterpene, known as a triterpenoid.  These molecules are concentrated in the outer black portion of the fungus and can be extracted most effectively for human consumption with non-polar solvents (i.e. alcohol).

Betulinic acid has demonstrated anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-HIV, anti-malaria, and antioxidant effects in numerous studies (4).  Its precursor, betulin, has been shown to possess anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties (5).

Both compounds, however, are not unique to the chaga fungus.  In fact, we can find betulin and its derivative, betulinic acid, quite easily in nature.

As chaga is essentially a parasite to its host tree (most commonly a birch tree, genus Betula) it’s not hard to imagine that many of its compounds will be derived from the birch tree.  This is what we see with betulin and betulinic acid.  Both compounds are created in the outer bark of birch trees, with betulin found in much higher concentrations than betulinic acid (6).  An additional compound found in the chaga fungus with origins in the outer bark of birch trees is lupeol.  Lupeol, another triterpene (gotta love them), has been shown to possess anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties (7).

Because the birch tree naturally contains many of the medicinal compounds found in chaga, we can utilize this knowledge by using birch bark for medicine, sparing the chaga fungus itself.  All 3 of these compounds – betulin, betulinic acid, and lupeol – are most effectively extracted via non-polar solvents, such as alcohol, due to their chemical structures.  Vinegar (i.e. acetic acid) may also be an effective solvent (8).

yellowbirch2wildfoodism

Bark from the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) contains many of the same medicinal compounds that can be found in chaga

Of course, ruthlessly hacking away at birch trees to obtain their bark is no sustainable solution.  Wounded and barkless birch trees, though still harboring plenty of chaga, is not the image I’m envisioning.  All foraging practices would benefit from responsible and conscientious harvesting methods – for example, extracting birch bark from recently felled trees or branches to use as medicine (live trees may harbor more medicine, though recently felled trees will still be effective to a degree).

In addition to its bark, the birch tree also concentrates betulin in its sap (9).  Though not as high in sugar as maple trees, birch trees can successfully be tapped to yield drinkable sap, which can eventually be turned into syrup.

Useful alternatives to chaga may include other species that utilize birch as their host tree.  Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) is a fungus that generally grows on dead birch trees and logs.  A fairly common mushroom, it contains many of the same medicinal compounds as chaga, notably the triterpenes.  For example, birch polypore possesses betulin, betulinic acid, and lupeol, and while its content of betulin is much lower than that of chaga, it contains a significantly greater concentration of lupeol in certain extracts (10).

birchpolyporewildfoodism

Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) is often overlooked by its superstar housemate, Inonotus obliquus

Betulin and its derivatives can additionally be found in other species.  Alder trees (genus Alnus) contain all 3 aforementioned compounds – betulin, betulinic acid, and lupeol (11).  Not surprisingly, Native Americans used alder tree bark to treat various conditions, such as headaches, rheumatic pains, colds, congestion, and anemia (12).

Other sources of betulin (13) include sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), Indian jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana) and the seeds of common jujube (Z. vulgaris var. spinosus).

Betulinic acid is generally found in low concentrations in nature.  However, the rare exception is buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) – a bog plant native to the United States that contains a high concentration of this compound.  Betulinic acid can also be found in self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) and rosemary (14, 15).

And to throw out just a few more examples before we wrap up this section, several additional medicinal mushrooms have been reported to contain pharmacologically active triterpenes.  The reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is one example among many.  Not only does reishi contain several triterpenes, it has been reported to contain 3 times the total amount of triterpenes as chaga (16).

To summarize:  Triterpenes are responsible for many of chaga’s medicinal effects, though other fungi – notably the reishi mushroom – contain greater numbers of these compounds.  Additionally, if you are specifically seeking betulin or betulinic acid, other plant parts and species can be used.  Examples include birch bark, birch sap, birch polypore, alder bark, buckbean, self-heal, and rosemary.

Polysaccharides

Enough with the triterpenes.  Let’s look at another fraction – the polysaccharides.

In addition to its content of triterpenes (can’t get away from them, sorry!), chaga contains a diverse group of molecules known as polysaccharides.  These molecules act, among other things, as antioxidants (17) and immune system regulators (18).

Obviously, chaga isn’t the only mushroom that contains polysaccharides, as these compounds form the structure of fungal cell walls.  Polysaccharides are ubiquitous in the fungal kingdom.  And in fact, other mushrooms contain the same amount of, if not more, polysaccharide fractions than chaga.

For example, the Indian oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius) and the golden oyster (P. citrinopileatus) have been shown to contain the same number of polysaccharide fractions as chaga.  What’s more, Leucopaxillus giganteus, maitake (Grifola frondosa), and hemlock reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) all contain more polysaccharide fractions than chaga (19).  These mushrooms have routinely been studied for their medicinal actions, and while I understand that more does not always equal better, it is worth noting that several species outperform chaga in the polysaccharide numbers game.

wildreasons

Hemlock reishi (Ganoderma tsugae), a polypore found on conifers, has been shown to contain more polysaccharide fractions than chaga

However, while its number of polysaccharide fractions may not be its most impressive feature, chaga certainly excels in a particular way.  Beta-glucans belong to particular class of polysaccharides that may provide the most benefit to the immune system, and research has shown that a large percentage of chaga’s polysaccharides are in fact beta-glucans (20).

Other mushrooms that have been shown to contain immuno-regulating polysaccharides include (21):

  • Snow fungus (Tremella fuciformis)
  • Split-gill polypore (Schizophyllum commune)
  • Umbrella polypore (Polyporus umbellatus)
  • Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus)
  • Reishi (G. lucidum)
  • Artist’s conk (G. applanatum)
  • Shiitake (Lentinus edodes)
  • Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes)

To summarize:  Chaga contains structural components known as polysaccharides.  These compounds, of which beta-glucans is one class, display antioxidant and immuno-regulating properties.  Many medicinal mushrooms contain immuno-regulating polysaccharides, including reishi, maitake, lion’s mane, and shiitake.  Polysaccharides from a few of these species may outnumber those found in chaga.

Antioxidants

Both classes of compounds discussed thus far – triterpenes and polysaccharides – demonstrate strong antioxidant activity.  Oxidation is a natural process in the human body that, if left unchecked, can result in conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few).  Antioxidants combat the process of oxidation by neutralizing reactive molecules in our bodies known as free radicals.

Triterpenes found within chaga have the ability to scavenge a reactive and potentially damaging molecule known as DPPH.  Polysaccharides within chaga can scavenge DPPH as well, though they also have the ability to scavenge a reactive molecule known as the superoxide radical (triterpenes do this as well, though to a lesser extent).  This potentially destructive molecule has been implicated in numerous diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (22, 23, 24).

Chaga isn’t the only resource to offer help in this situation.  Within the human body, a built-in mechanism is already in place.  An enzyme known as superoxide dismutase targets and neutralizes the superoxide radical, helping to prevent oxidative damage.  Additionally, other species have been shown to demonstrate similar effects.  For example, reishi (G. lucidum) and the umbrella polypore (P. umbellatus) both possess superoxide radical scavenging ability, and both were shown in one particular study to demonstrate the highest scavenging effects of 8 mushrooms tested (25).

Another study compared the antioxidant and immuno-modulatory activities of aqueous extracts from chaga, cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris), and cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa).  Chaga certainly demonstrated strong antioxidant effects in this study, as did cordyceps.  Researchers found, however, that cat’s claw displayed the strongest activity in scavenging both the superoxide radical and DPPH – which, if you will recall, are two highly reactive molecules implicated in oxidative damage.  When tested on mice, cat’s claw was the optimal species to exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects (26).

It’s also worth noting that pure vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, was generally just as effective, if not more effective, in displaying antioxidant activity compared to the other three species tested (this was usually seen in higher doses).  Vitamin C is very prevalent in nature, and if you’re interested in learning which wild species contain large amounts of this compound, check out this article (after you’re done reading this one, of course).

To summarize:  Chaga, due to its concentration of triterpenes and polysaccharides (among other compounds), displays strong antioxidant effects.  Chaga is particularly effective against two reactive molecules – DPPH and the superoxide radical.  Other species that demonstrate powerful antioxidant effects include reishi, the umbrella polypore, cordyceps, and cat’s claw.  Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant with impressive physiological effects.

Anti-diabetes

Several studies have suggested that chaga contains compounds that may be useful in the treatment of diabetes (27, 28, 29, 30).  Many of these compounds have been shown to inhibit alpha-glucosidase – an enzyme that breaks down starch and simple sugars to glucose.  By inhibiting this enzyme, glucose absorption slows down in the body, ultimately reducing the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar.  Chaga, with its ability to inhibit alpha-glucosidase, is therefore a promising candidate in the treatment of diabetes.

Another highly sought after fungus with similar anti-diabetic activity is the maitake mushroom.  Maitake extracts have been shown to inhibit alpha-glucosidase.  Two of its compounds, oleic acid and linoleic acid, may be responsible for this inhibition.

Stinging nettle leaf extracts have also been shown to display blood sugar-lowering effects in patients with type 2 diabetes.

stingingnettlewildfoodism

You may not like its sting, but you may appreciate its ability to treat diabetes

Several other species possess anti-diabetic properties.  The list is much too vast to include here, though an online search will be sure to offer additional assistance.

To summarize:  Chaga demonstrates anti-diabetic effects, notably through its ability to inhibit the enzyme, alpha-glucosidase.  Similar effects have been seen in the maitake mushroom and stinging nettle.

Now, we have only looked at a snippet of what chaga has been shown to do … both scientifically and anecdotally.  It is no surprise that a fungus so dearly prized by many individuals exerts a vast array of biologically-pertinent effects.  This article has only scratched the surface of what chaga is capable of doing.

For example, we haven’t even discussed the anti-inflammatory, the anti-microbial, nor the anti-viral properties of chaga.  Nor have we talked about other classes of biologically relevant compounds – including the polyphenols, sterols, and melanin – and their documented effects.  While many of these compounds can be found in numerous plants, fungi, and even animals, there are some compounds that are entirely unique to the chaga fungus – ones that have not been discovered in other species.  Inotodiol, an anti-tumor compound found only in chaga, is just one example (31).

Remember, this article is not meant to suggest that substituting another species for chaga can serve as a complete replacement for all its medicinal effects.  Nor is this article’s intention to undermine chaga’s medicinal actions by pointing out that other species may perform better than chaga in certain tests of strength.

Rather, individuals who lack access to chaga, though wishing to experience similar health benefits, may find this information useful.  Heck, even those with seemingly unlimited access to chaga may benefit from this information.

You see, dietary diversity is essential for optimal health.  Our ancestors understood this, as evidenced by the extensive number of plant, animal, and fungal species consumed as part of their traditional diets.  Today, most Americans rely on only a handful of species (i.e. corn, wheat, and soy), and no matter how clean, pure, or organic these few species may be, they cannot constitute an optimal diet without the inclusion of dozens (think hundreds) more species from the natural world.

And so it is with chaga.  As fantastic as its medicine may be, surely our health would benefit from the addition and inclusion of other medicines from the various kingdoms of life.

Not only because our health depends on it, but the health of our planet, too.  We cannot excessively extract one species from the land and expect the rest of the biological world to pay no attention.

And so it is with chaga.

Earth notices, and Earth responds.

Thanks for reading, and congrats for making it to the bottom!  As always… happy foraging!


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Natural sun protection with herbal and culinary oils – a look at plant SPF numbers

naturalsunscreenwildfoodismI like the sun.  I really do.  So it always fascinates me whenever I see others avoiding at all costs this astronomical entity that makes me feel so great.  Maybe I’m unique, I don’t know.  Or maybe there’s a deeper explanation…

All humans require sunlight.  And it’s not just about vitamin D synthesis (although it is important).  The benefits of healthy sun exposure extend far beyond the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), and these benefits have been known for quite some time.

Heliotherapy (phototherapy) was documented scientifically more than one hundred years ago by Niels Ryberg Finsen, a Nobel Prize winning Danish physician who clinically experimented with different wavelengths of light to treat smallpox and tuberculosis of the skin.  Numerous sunbathing clinics were created around the world – first in Europe, then in the United States – to treat patients with skin, bone, and pulmonary tuberculosis.  As antimicrobial treatments became available, however, use of heliotherapy for tuberculosis declined.  Today, heliotherapy is used to treat other conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and seasonal affective disorder.

Outside of the clinic, researchers continue to unravel the benefits of healthy sun exposure.  For example, a recent study suggests that sun exposure can reduce blood pressure, which may in turn decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke (1).

Now, I understand the flipside – the risks of prolonged sun exposure, especially for individuals who normally spend a significant amount of time indoors and have not acclimated properly to the sun.  Add to that a diet deficient in antioxidants, and you’ve got a recipe for all kinds of problems.

But even for those who have acclimated themselves to the sun and have ensured a diet rich in antioxidants, sometimes protection is warranted.  Shade and clothing are ways to accomplish this, though I wouldn’t recommend conventional sunscreen products.  Most contain ingredients that could potentially do more harm than good, such as parabens, petroleum oils, and synthetic fragrances.  Research suggests that certain ingredients, when absorbed into the skin, generate more free radicals in users of sunscreen than in individuals who expose themselves to sunlight without sunscreen (2).

There is hope, however, as natural herbal and culinary oils provide their own sun protection factors (SPF) and may be used effectively as natural sunscreens (3).  Research has found that, on average, nonvolatile oils have SPF values between 2 and 8, and volatile oils have SPF values between 1 and 7.

Nonvolatile oils (followed by SPF)

  • Olive oil, 7.549
  • Coconut oil, 7.119
  • Castor oil, 5.687
  • Almond oil, 4.659
  • Mustard oil, 2.105
  • Chaulmoogra oil, 2.019
  • Sesame oil, 1.771

Volatile oils (followed by SPF)

  • Peppermint oil, 6.668
  • Tulsi oil, 6.571
  • Lemon grass oil, 6.282
  • Lavender oil, 5.624
  • Orange oil, 3.975*
  • Lemon oil, 2.810*
  • Eucalyptus oil, 2.625
  • Tea tree oil, 1.702
  • Rose oil, 0.248

*Note: Oils of orange and lemon may increase sensitivity to the sun, and if used cosmetically, may need to be diluted (4).

Overall, this is great news, especially for those who are looking for alternatives to the synthetically produced commercial sunscreens.  Experiment by making your own, or look for products that include some of these oils.

And remember, Homo sapiens evolved under the sun.  In fact, we’re still evolving.  Don’t lose your body’s natural ability to protect itself from healthy sun exposure through extreme indoor living, an inadequate diet, and synthetic sunscreen use.

Intentional sun exposure is a wise strategy.  Perpetual avoidance of the sun?  Maybe not so much.


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-Adam Haritan

7 Natural Tick Repellents From The Plant Kingdom

deertickwildfoodismForaging for food in the supermarket is just a bit different from foraging for food in the wild, wouldn’t you say?

While both scenarios present a set of challenges (in the supermarket:  beating the weekend rush, using coupons before their expiration dates, enduring the dreadful parking lots, etc.), wild food foraging may be known to pose the more immediate threats (misidentification, embracing the elements of nature, etc.).

One of the challenges of being a wild food enthusiast in Pennsylvania is exposure to ticks.  These small arachnids, particularly the deer ticks (i.e. blacklegged ticks), are no small threats, as they are vectors for illnesses including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis.

Typical precautionary measures include wearing long sleeved pants and shirts, wearing light colored clothing to easily spot the presence of ticks, and using repellents.

But which repellents are effective and safe?

DEET is one of the most popular tick repellents, yet researchers question its safety not only on human health, but on the health of the environment as well (1).  Permethrin is another synthetic repellent recommended for protection against ticks, and even though it is indicated for topical application, the EPA classifies this insecticide as a weak carcinogen with toxic effects on fish and aquatic invertebrates (2).

Fortunately, researchers have analyzed alternative (i.e. more natural) ways to protect oneself against deer ticks.  Let’s take a look at some of them:

Cypress
An extract of Alaska cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) has been shown to be effective at killing nymphal ticks, with effects lasting up to 21 days after treatment (3).  This is important, for the reason that most humans are infected through the bites of these small and barely detectable nymphs. Chinese weeping cypress (Cupressus funebris) has also been shown to effectively repel deer tick nymphs.

Juniper
Junipers are coniferous plants in the cypress family (Cupressaceae).  The same study that analyzed the repellent activity of Alaska cypress found that an extract of Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) was effective at repelling larval ticks.

Additionally, the oils of common juniper leaves (Juniperus communis) and Chinese juniper wood (Juniperus chinensis) are effective repellents against deer tick nymphs. In one particular study, common juniper leaf oil was just as effective as DEET (4).

Balsam torchwood
Balsam torchwood (Amyris balsamifera) is an aromatic bush whose oil has been used traditionally as an antiseptic.  An essential oil from the plant has been researched and shown to be an effective deer tick repellent (5).

Osage orange
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is a small tree in the mulberry family known for its “monkey ball” fruits.  In the same study that analyzed balsam torchwood’s activity against ticks, researchers found that a primary constituent of the essential oil of Osage orange, known as elemol, effectively repelled deer ticks.

Tauroniro tree
The compound isolongifolenone, derived from this Neotropical tree (Humiria balsamifera), has been shown to be an effective insect repellent.  In one study, isolongifolenone repelled deer ticks as effectively as DEET (6).

Geraniol
Geraniol is the main compound found in the oils of rose, palmarosa, and citronella.  It is also a component of geranium oil and lemon oil.  As part of a plant based repellent, geraniol has been shown to be effective against deer ticks (7).

Lemon eucalyptus
Lemon eucalyptus (Corymbia citriodora) is an Australian tree whose oil contains a compound known as menthoglycol.  While no research has looked at its effect on deer ticks, a prospective cross-over field trial showed that application of the oil reduced the number of castor bean ticks attached to human participants by about 63% (8).  The castor bean tick is a European hard-bodied tick that, like the deer tick, can transmit the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.

And there we have it … seven natural tick repellents that have been scientifically researched for their effectiveness.  Many products derived from the aforementioned plants can be found commercially (i.e. sprays, creams, essential oils).

If you live in an area known to be at high risk of harboring Lyme disease (check out this U.S. map to see if you are), consider implementing safe, yet effective strategies to protect yourself during your time spent in the wild.

Of course, there are many more plants that have the ability to repel ticks; if you have a particular strategy that works well for you, please share with us!


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Want to connect with naturalists in your area?  Some of them may even be tick-fighting experts!  Check out Learn Your Land to learn more!

Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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Nutritional Differences Between Maple Syrup Grades – Which Is Best?

MaplesugarindustrywildfoodismWithin the supermarket of domesticated foods, a wild redeemer can usually be found:  maple syrup.  It is the largest commercially produced and consumed natural plant product that is derived exclusively from tree sap, and is one of the remaining wild foods left in the grocery store.

For those who do not have the time, nor the resources, to embark on the path of home sugar production, commercially bought maple syrup is a fine alternative.  But how do we know which kind is best for us?  Some notable authors declare that there are no nutritional differences between the various grades of syrup.  Are they entirely correct in their statements?

First, I’ll just throw it out there for those who may not know: products like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth’s are not real maple syrups.  They’re made from high-fructose corn syrup.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think Zea mays (corn) gives its sap for the production of sugar in ways quite like a maple tree.  What’s more, neither of the aforementioned products even contains the word “maple” in its list of ingredients.  I’m sure most of you know all this, but for those who don’t, I’d strongly advise against the consumption of these maple syrup knockoffs.

Moving on, let’s assume we have in front of us 4 different bottles of (real) maple syrup.  From left to right, the colors range from light to dark, and the grades progress from US Grade A Light Amber, all the way to US Grade B for Reprocessing.  This is the standard labeling in most of the states within the U.S., though Canada has different standards (from Canada No.1 Extra Light to Canada No. 3 Amber).  To alleviate confusion, the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI) has recommended the adoption of a universal grading scale, assigning a Grade A to all products, and only differentiating by color and taste.

Now, the big question is this:  Is there a difference in nutritional value between the lightest bottles and the darkest?

The answer?  Of course!  There appears to be considerable variation between syrups (using the IMSI classifications of amber, dark, and very dark) in three main areas of nutritional concern:  mineral composition, total phenol content, and antioxidant potential (1).

Mineral composition
Very dark syrup, which tends to be produced from sap later in the season, has been shown to contain higher levels of calcium and phosphorus than those found in amber syrup.  There is, on average, 2.26 times the calcium and 2.76 times the phosphorus in very dark syrup compared to amber syrup.  All maple syrup contains a host of minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron, though very dark syrup may boast around 27% more total mineral content than its lighter alternative.

Total phenol content
Phenols are the main phytochemical compounds found in maple syrup.  Very dark syrup, on average, may contain up to 2.1 times the phenol content than that of amber syrup.  These plant compounds are associated with the darker color of fruits and vegetables, and may give the darker syrups their rich colors.  Beyond aesthetics, maple phenols may possess important biological activities, acting as antioxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-cancer agents.

For example, a phenolic-rich extract from maple syrup has been shown to induce cell cycle arrest in human colon cancer cells (2).

Another study showed that maple polyphenols may have potential cancer chemoprotective effects through the induction of cell cycle arrest in colon and breast cancer cells (3).

Antioxidant potential
Among fruits and vegetables, high phenol content is associated with higher antioxidant potential.  This is exactly what we see with maple syrup.  On average, very dark maple syrup has almost 2 times the antioxidant potential than that of amber syrup.  This potential may be greater than those of vitamin C and synthetic commercial antioxidants.

Oxidation is a contributing factor in certain illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  The consumption of dietary antioxidants, like those found in maple syrup, therefore, is necessary to keep the oxidation process in check.

In summary, darker maple syrup tends to contain a higher total mineral content (especially calcium and phosphorus), more phenols, and a higher antioxidant potential than lighter maple syrup.  This is handy information for those who may be confused by all the varying labels on maple syrup bottles.

A point I haven’t addressed yet, though one that is worth mentioning, is that home sugar production can be unparalleled when it comes to quality.  Most commercial maple syrup is produced with the heavy utilization of plastic in several steps throughout the process.  It wouldn’t be too far fetched to expect some leaching of plastic compounds into the final product.  The use of more inert materials, therefore, such as stainless steel and glass (included in some home operations), can result in a product that exceeds the quality of any syrup bought in the store.

Regardless of how you acquire maple syrup – either through the grocery store, a neighbor, or your own sugar bush – including this nutritious food at home is a great way to increase the wildness of your diet.

And remember, when choosing a particular grade of maple syrup based on the nutritional profile, a general rule of thumb can be applied:  the darker the syrup, the better!

References
Li L, Seeram NP (2012). Chemical composition and biological effects of maple syrup. In: Patil, BS, Guddadarangavvanahally KJ, Chidambara M, Kotamballi N and Seeram, NP (eds). Emerging trends
in dietary components for preventing and combating disease, 1st ed. Amer Chem Soc., pp 323-333.


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Adam Haritan

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How Birch Bark Heals Wounds Faster, And How To Make Birch Bark Medicine For Skin

yellowbirchwildfoodismWhen treating illness or disease, it makes sense to consume food and medicine of the highest quality.

Should not the same standard apply, then, to the things we put onto our bodies, for instance, in the event of an injury or wound?

For those individuals who are looking for something – how should I say it – less toxic? – than the creams and lotions with concentrated antibiotics (known to contribute to antibiotic resistance), synthetic preservatives, synthetic fragrances, and synthetic colors:  consider looking to the birch tree for potential wound relief.

According to researchers from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences of the University of Freiburg, an extract from silver birch bark (Betula pendula) is able to expedite the wound-healing process, doing so in two unique ways (1).

First, the extract enhances acute inflammation.  When skin is damaged, certain inflammatory mediators are recruited to the area of injury.  Birch bark, in particular its triterpine betulin, heightens this particular response when applied to wounds, allowing for greater production of inflammatory substances that fight harmful bacteria and remove dead tissue.  This pro-inflammatory process is only temporary, which is a good thing, as extended inflammation could be detrimental to the wound healing process.

Second, the extract enhances tissue repair.  After skin is damaged and inflammation is underway, new skin cells must close the wound.  Birch bark, when applied to skin, causes keratinocytes to migrate more quickly to the site of injury, helping to seal the wound.  It seems as though the compounds betulin and lupeol are responsible for this crucial second step.

While the particular mechanisms behind the wound-healing properties of birch bark provide new information for scientists, the use of birch bark to heal wounds has been known by researchers for quite some time.  A 2010 case study documented the ability of birch bark extract to successfully treat severe necrotizing herpes zoster (shingles) in a patient who failed to respond to conventional topical treatments (2).

In another report, birch bark extract was shown to be effective in treating two patients with second degree burning (3).

The history of birch bark for wound treatment goes back yet even further.  If we are to look at the traditional use of birch trees by indigenous peoples, at least in North America, we find that several groups used the bark to treat various skin disorders.

For example, paper birch was used to treat skin rashes.  The Cree used the outer bark to bandage burns.  Inner bark, added to pitch and grease, was used by the Cree as ointment for persistent scabs and rashes.

Gray birch was used by the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq for infected cuts, and powdered wood from the downy birch was used by the Cree to treat chafed skin (4).

Although Native Americans did not produce extractions as sophisticated as the modern ones currently used in research, they were still able to take advantage of the skin-healing properties of birch trees through simpler methods, and so can you.

Both betulin and lupeol, the chemicals responsible for the wound-healing effects of birch bark, are poorly soluble in water.  To make birch bark extractions, then, alcohol and fat would be better solvents.  This can be accomplished by removing the bark (the researchers used the outer bark), crushing it into small pieces, and extracting the materials in alcohol or fat.  After a few weeks, the mixture can be strained and bottled for later use.

A salve can also be quite effective, produced by extracting the bark in olive oil, straining, and adding the solution to melted beeswax.  Upon solidifying, the salve is ready for use.

Being able to identify birch trees is important, as they can also be utilized for food, medicine, sap and syrup, basketry, dyes, lumber, and fire wood.  When using them to treat wounds, however, understand that there is a limit to what they can accomplish.  If you are out in the wild and injure yourself severely, professional emergency medical help might be the better option.

Still, it is important to know that birch bark can be used in certain circumstances to treat skin disorders.  And what’s even more important than just knowing about it is taking action and putting this information to good use.

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!

References
3. Schempp C, Huyke C (2005) Behandlung von Verbrennungen 2. Grades mit Birkencreme. Der Merkurstab 5: 402.
4. Moerman, D. E. (2008) Native American Ethnobotany. London: Timber Press, Inc.


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Adam Haritan

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22 Trees That Can Be Tapped For Sap And Syrup

maplespilewildfoodism2As 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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FREE Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms!

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Adam Haritan

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49 Plants That Treat High Blood Pressure

garlic-and-gingerA middle-aged man approached me the other day, asking if I could provide advice on treating high blood pressure.  “I tried everything,” he said, as I ran through all the standard recommendations.  From our brief interaction, it was clear that diet and lifestyle were the likely culprits, evidenced by his higher-than-average body mass index (BMI), his stressful 70-hour work weeks, and the apparent halitosis (bad breath) he experienced.

In the United States, 67 million American adults (31%) have hypertension, defined as persistently high arterial blood pressure (1).  It is quantified by having a systolic blood pressure (pressure during the contraction phase of the cardiac cycle) of 120 mm Hg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure (pressure during the relaxation phase of the cardiac cycle) of 80 mm Hg or higher.  Common FDA-approved medications for hypertension include diuretics (water pills), angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and beta blockers.

Of course, a problem is never presented without a solution, and in the case of hypertension, many natural solutions exist.  A recent review in the journal Pharmacognosy Review examined the scientific research regarding natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension, and provided a list of 49 potentially effective plants along with their medicinal actions (2).

In this post, I will relay what the authors discovered.  Most of these plants are wild, while some are cultivated.  Regardless, if you experience hypertension and think that you have tried every treatment, confirm your belief with this list.

1. Round leaf buchu (Agathosma betulina)
Round leaf buchu is a South African plant used as an effective diuretic.

2. Garlic (Allium sativum)
In individuals with increased systolic pressure, garlic may decrease blood pressure through the increase of nitric oxide production.

3. Prickly custard apple (Annona muricata)
A leaf extract of this Central American/Caribbean tree may lower elevated blood pressure by decreasing peripheral vascular resistance.

4. Celery (Apium graveolens)
Studies show that the juice and seeds of the celery plant are safe and effective treatments for high blood pressure.

5. Manchurian pipevine (Aristolochia manshuriensis)
This Chinese plant has been studied for its use as a diuretic; magnoflorine, a compound isolated from the plant, displays hypotensive properties.

6. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
A leaf extract from this species of flowering tree in the mulberry family has been shown to reduce tension in aortic rings in animal studies.

7. Oats (Avena sativa)
The common oat is a soluble fiber-rich cereal grain that has been found to significantly reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

8. Psyllium (Plantago ovata)
Preliminary research shows that a daily 15 gram psyllium supplement can moderately lower systolic blood pressure by about 8 mm Hg, and diastolic by about 2 mm Hg.

9. Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Research on the population level shows that consumption of green tea and oolong tea (different fermentation levels, same plant) is associated with a decreased risk of developing hypertension.

10. Lasaf (Capparis cartilaginea)
This scrambling perennial shrub has been reported to produce a dose-dependent decrease in blood pressure in rats.

11. Ajwain (Trachyspermum ammi)
Ajwain is a parsley-like plant whose extract produces a drop in blood pressure and heart rate in rats.

12. Chaksu (Cassia absus)
A crude extract of this tropical plant produces a dose-related decrease in blood pressure, as well as a decrease in heart rate at higher doses.

13. Coffeeweed (Senna occidentalis)
A small pantropical tree, coffeeweed has traditional use as an antihypertensive agent.  Research has confirmed a relaxant effect on aortic rings from the leaf extract, as well as the ability of the plant to relax smooth muscle and reduce blood pressure.

14. Moreton Bay chestnut (Castanospermum australe)
A crude extract from this South Pacific plant has been shown to reduce blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner.  Note:  the seeds are poisonous, and rendered edible when prepared properly.

15. Coleus forskohlii (Plectranthus barbatus)
Forskolin, a vasodilating compound isolated from this tropical perennial plant, has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies.

16. Virginia dayflower (Commelina virginica)
This perennial herbaceous plant, native to the mideastern and southeastern United States, has been shown to reduce tension of aortic rings in animal studies.

17. Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida)
Chinese hawthorn is a small to medium sized tree that has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.  Scientific research has elucidated its effects in lowering blood pressure.

18. River lily (Crinum glaucum)
An aqueous extract of this West Nigerian plant has been shown to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

19. Giant dodder (Cuscuta reflexa)
A crude extract from this parasitic plant in the morning glory family has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies.

20. Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Also known as Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carota may lower blood pressure through the blockade of calcium channels.  Caution should be taken when harvesting this plant, as it resembles the deadly poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

21. Coin-leaf desmodium (Desmodium styracifolium)
Dried leaves and stems from this leguminous plant have been shown to lower arterial blood pressure in animal studies.

22. Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica)
Native to South America, hardy fuchsia is a dwarf shrub in the evening primrose family.  An infusion of the leaf extract acts as a diuretic and lowers blood pressure.

23. Soybean (Glycine max)
Soybean may provide a modest reduction in blood pressure.

24. Pima cotton (Gossypium barbadense)
Traditional medicine in Suriname utilizes the leaves of this plant as an antihypertensive agent.  Research has shown Pima cotton to decrease the tension in aortic rings in animal studies.

25. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
The roselle is one of the most well-studied plants for the treatment of hypertension.  In human studies, the roselle has been shown to act very similarly to captopril, an ACE inhibitor, in its antihypertensive effects, effectiveness, and tolerance.

26. French lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Crude extracts of this Mediterranean plant have been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate in animal studies.

27. Broadleaved pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium)
This edible plant in the mustard family displays diuretic and blood pressure lowering effects in animal studies.

28. Flax (Linum usitatissimum)
Flaxseed is a good source of alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), a parent fatty acid of the omega-3 fats.  ALA has been shown to possess antihypertensive effects in individuals with high-normal blood pressure and mild hypertension.

29. Black mangrove (Lumnitzera racemosa)
Amongst the mangrove plants, the black mangrove is the most salt tolerant species.  An aqueous acetone extract of this small tree has been shown to display antihypertensive activity.

30. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
An extract of the tomato has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with mild, untreated hypertension.  Additionally, a significant correlation has been discovered between systolic blood pressure and lycopene, a carotenoid pigment in the tomato.

31. Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
A crude extract from Moringa oleifera, the most cultivated plant in its genus, caused a fall in systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressure in animal studies.

32. African corkwood tree (Musanga cecropioides)
Native to Africa, this straight-stemmed evergreen tree has been studied for its dose-dependent effects on lowering blood pressure.

33. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This South East Asian culinary herb exhibits antihypertensive effects through its chemical compound, eugenol.  Also found in spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, eugenol works by blocking calcium channels.

34. Harmal (Peganum harmala)
Harmal is a perennial plant that has traditional usage in Turkey and Syria.  A crude extract from harmal exhibits antihypertensive effects in animal studies.  In addition to its blood pressure lowering properties, harmal may have also been an important entheogen in ancient Middle East.

35. Nela nelli (Phyllanthus amarus)
Closely related to chanca piedra (“stone breaker”), this species of Phyllanthus has traditionally been used as a diuretic to lower blood pressure.

36. Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster)
Pycnogenol, an extract isolated from the bark of maritime pine, has been shown to be effective for venous insufficiency.  Research has also shown that 200 mg/day of pycnogenol may modestly lower blood pressure in individuals with mild hypertension.

37. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
A member of the pea family, kudzu root is officially recognized in China as a muscle relaxant, fever reducer, and a treatment for hypertension.  An isoflavone extracted from kudzu has been shown clinically to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

38. Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Research, although with conflicting results, suggests that pomegranate juice may be effective in reducing blood pressure.

39. Radish (Raphanus sativus)
The edible root of this mustard family plant has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate in animal studies.

40. Snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentina)
Snakeroot is considered to be one of the most antihypertensive plants.  A purified alkaloid from snakeroot, reserpine, was the first effective drug used in the long term treatment of hypertension, though it is rarely used today.

41. Rhaptopetalum coriaceum Oliver
The bark from this woody, tropical South American plant has been used traditionally as a treatment for hypertension.  Research has revealed that its mechanism of action may be through calcium channel blocking.

42. Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
Sesame is one of the oldest oil-seed crops known.  In patients with hypertension, consumption of sesame oil has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and increase endogenous antioxidant production.  Sesamin, a lignan found in sesame oil, may be useful as a preventative for hypertension.  Alcoholic extraction of the seeds has also been shown to lower blood pressure in animal studies.

43. Sticky nightshade (Solanum sisymbriifolium)
Sticky nightshade has been used in traditional Paraguayan medicine as a diruetic and antihypertensive agent.  Studies in animals have elucidated its role in reducing blood pressure.

44. Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
Studies have shown that consumption of polyphenolic-rich chocolate (dark or milk) can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.  Compounds in chocolate also enhance vasodilation within the cardiovascular system.

45. Wheat bran (Triticum aestivum)
Increasing wheat bran intake by 3-6 grams daily may modestly reduce blood pressure.

46. Cat’s claw herb (Uncaria rhynchophylla)
This flowering plant in the coffee family has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to lower blood pressure.  Its hypotensive effects may be attributed to the alkaloid, hirsutine, which acts on calcium channels.

47. Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant in the sandalwood family.  Aqueous extracts of its leaves display blood pressure lowering effects in animal studies.

48. Wild African black plum (Vitex doniana)
An extract from this flowering plant in the mint family has significantly lowered blood pressure in animal studies.

49. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Frequently used for digestive issues, ginger also has been shown to improve blood circulation and relax muscles surrounding blood vessels.  Studies performed on animals have revealed its ability to reduce blood pressure through calcium channel blocking.

There we have it.  Forty-nine plants that may aid in the reduction of blood pressure.  If you (or someone you know) have hypertension, and believe that every treatment has been tried, study this list and see if one or more of these plants can provide assistance.

It should be understood that there is hardly a replacement for optimal diet and lifestyle practices.  A single plant is not the cause of hypertension, therefore a single plant cannot be the cure for it either.

Only with alterations in the way we live our lives – through the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the sunshine we receive, our thoughts, actions, relationships, etc. –  can we begin to radically transform our bodies, reclaiming the health and robustness that once defined our species, Homo sapiens.

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


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