It seems there has been a lot buzz lately about the benefits of drinking maple sap. I have heard of a few companies in Canada starting to produce sap drinks and friends in Brooklyn are contemplating a company selling the stuff. We have some friends who live up in Northern Vermont. They are, among other things, Wildcrafters and Plant Spirit Medicine experts. They really know how to use the land and thier surroundings with thought and care and with a truely sustainable spirit. You will see and hear more about them here over time, as we are currently working on a documentary about them; but more on that later. When I spoke to Nova Kim of wild gourmet food earlier this week she told me that they had given up water for a while and turned to drinking sap during the maple season, (she said they are drinking about 80% sap to 20% water). Anyone and everyone who has ever collected syrup has tasted the sweet nutrient, mineral rich sap. It is impossible to resist the taste. The liquid is clear like water and has a delicate sweetness that is so light and faint and almost mildly floral.
Sap has an enormous amount of calcium and iron and other minerals and has been used for it's health benefits for thousands of years in Korea, China , Japan and amongst Native Americans.. There is evidence that Native Americans drank sap for purification purposes. There is a very interesting article in the New York Times that chronicles South Korean's love affair with maple sap. They drink Fifty gallons per person at a time. They believe they sweat out the toxins and replace the fluids with sap. They call thier maple the "tree for the good bones" as the sap is full of calcium and helps with osteoporosis.
Overall, Nova contends that it, basically, adds a touch of sweetness to everything, a completely natural sweetness. She obtains the health benefits of sap by drinking it straight and using it in her everyday cooking. In the morning she occaisionaly makes oatmeal with it, substituting it anywhere she would normally use water. She recently made a fifteen bean stew with a sap base. She used a smoked ham hock and the sap as the base flavor to her bean stew. She threw it all in a crockpot and let it rip. I love this kind of one pot cooking. I will see if I can wrangle a recipie from her, but you get the basic idea.
if you are not tapping your own trees, you can find a sugar house or a farmer near you and perhps buy some sap from them. ( go to your local farmers market and talk to the syrup guys) It does take roughly forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Syrup has commanded some pretty high prices in the past few years based on availability due to shorter sap seasons and climate change. The sap start to flow when the days are warm (over 40 degrees and the nights are below freezing) the word is that this will be a long cool spring and that makes for an excellent syrup season. If you are lucky and persistent, you may find a farmer willing to part with some of the good stuff or...you can revert to some yankee ingenuity and go find a maple tree, get a drill then tap in a spout, and wait patiently for the plunk plunk plunk... not only will you and your family have a greater appreciation for where your food comes from, but it will be all that much sweeter for your efforts.
NOTE: as with any kind of harvesting...it is important to do it with care and sustainability. Don't overtap your trees! You will bleed them to death!!