sThe sun is hot on her shoulders, warm rocks beneath her feet and a crisp breeze in her hair. In a few hours it will be too hot to stand here with bare feet and the wind will have dissolved until the chill permeates the air as the sun disappears.
She will not be here in a few hours.
Her eyes scan the valley below. She’s more than halfway down the mountain, close enough now to hear the burbling of the river that winds through the woods and into the plains. Black spots from high up have burst into cattle further down, the small herd grazing and drinking with easy grace.
The turn of the seasons hasn’t quite caught them out here–the grass is a deep green, lightened with yellow, red, and orange clusters of flowers. The creep of fall, however, is apparent in the woods. The trees–birches–are yellow, their trunks sinking into a white blur in the face of the vivid color. Detritus litters the forest floor, a thick blanket that obscure her path.
That’s alright. She always knows her path here.
The stone path is smooth ahead of her, gently winding like the river below. It is never steeper than she can manage, never too smooth or too rough for the comort of her feet, nothing but warm beneath her. The further she walks, one switchback after another, the more flowers appear on either side. Bouquets of red, orange, and yellow. Fire colors.
Her first step onto the grass makes her stop, eyes fluttering shut as she takes in this new sensation after so long walking. The grass is cool, soft, and each blade gently tickles the sole of her foot before her weight bends the tips away. She can feel water in the dark soil, a pleasant chill and and pleasant sensation. The ground is rich and full here, the smell of it apparent now that she’s in the valley.
She takes her next step and her next, eyes still closed. The sun is warm on the crown of her head and she imagines its light sinking down through her spine, through her pelvis to her femurs and her tibia and all the way through her feet where the cool earth greets it.
She opens her eyes just as a breeze rolls through the grass, sending wave after wave of shining light over the field, filling her ears with the soft whisper of movement. The flowers flicker in and out of sight amidst the green, the cows comforting ships in the sea.
She keeps walking.
The river blooms ahead of her, crystal clear water rippling and dancing. The water is cold from the mountains and she takes a moment to stoop, planting one knee in the chilled clay on the blank. Her hand pushes into the shallows, paler than the moon with the aid of the water and already shining with the power the river holds. She imagines she can feel it all connect–the earth to the water to the sun above her.
She drinks from the palm of her hand, the cool of it shocking against her warm lips and more than welcome sliding down her parched throat. When she has had her fill, she stands, nodding to the swirl and rush of the water. It had been what she needed when she needed it, just as everything her had been and will be.
It does not mean she does not owe it her thanks.
She steps to the flat rock closest to her, watching as the grey stone divides the rush and pull of the water. The next is slate, the third granite, the fourth basalt, the fifth quartz. They thrum as she uses them to cross the river, each charged and content under the sun.
She jumps lightly to the opposite bank, disturbing the cattails that grow thick there and continues to the woods.
There is only what there is amidst the white, peeling trunks of the birches. She will never need it to be anything more.
Over the course of the last few months I’ve been quietly snapping away at the various fungi I’ve encountered in West Lothian and the Lomond Hills of Fife.
I’ll readily admit now that I’m not a fungi person by any stretch of the imagination. I do find them utterly fascinating and will snap hundreds of photos of them, but I find identifying them difficult.
This isn’t surprising, for there are believed to be around 12,000 known species of fungi in Scotland. And identifying them can be even more problematic because the ones that we can see above ground change appearance at different stages of their lives.
It’s entirely possible to find two fungi in different places that look completely different, only to find they’re the same species at different points in their life cycle. As the dome-shaped caps open up into parasols, it’s easy to get confused. And I do. Regularly.
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.
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. –wildfoodism.com