12 Trees for Harvesting Natural Syrup
In the aftermath of a disaster your first thoughts will be about survival. But what if the effects of a crisis drag on, like during the slow recovery from an EMP or financial crash? Once you have shelter, clean water and a steady food supply, you’ll find yourself missing the sweeter things in life. Fortunately nature is full of syrup trees whose sugary sap can satisfy your cravings.
While the sugar maple tree is the most popular source of syrup these days, there are many other species that can be tapped for syrup. Many other maple trees also have abundant sap, including the red maple, silver maple, bigleaf maple and canyon maple trees.
But if you live in a region without maple trees of any sort, don’t despair. Here are 14 other species that produce tasty tree sap. You might even like their flavor better than that of maple syrup. You will also find information on how to tap a syrup tree.
What is Syrup?
You are most likely familiar with the sweet, sticky, flavorful maple syrup. If you’ve ever had the real thing no knock-off full of high fructose corn syrup can replace it.
But syrup doesn’t necessarily come from a maple tree. It can be made by dissolving sugar in boiling water or by boiling the sugar-rich liquid of many plants and trees such as sugar cane, corn, agave, maple or any of our maple tree alternatives on the following pages.
Tree #1: Box Elder
Boxelder trees are actually part of the maple genus, and are thus closely related to our famous sugar maple tree. They have a wide range across the United States, especially in the central and eastern parts of the country.
You need about twice as much sap to get the same volume of syrup from a boxelder vs. a sugar maple. But boxelder often yield more than double the amount of sap that a maple will, so the end yield is similar. And it’s not uncommon to have a whole forest of untapped boxelder near your house from Virginia to Utah.
Tree #2: White Walnut (Butternut)
White Walnut, or Butternut, makes really tasty syrup. All types of syrup trees should be tapped in the early springtime. March through early April is the typical season for maple trees. You can try tapping your walnuts at the same time.
Tree #3: Black Walnut
Black walnuts are mainly grown throughout the Midwest as timber trees, but they do produce great sap through the winter. In a mild climate you could try tapping as early as Thanksgiving.
Be cautious if you decide to plant black walnuts for sap or timber. They are slow to mature and produce a toxin called juglone that stunts the growth of other plants and trees. Make sure you place them far from your garden and other trees.
Tree #4: English Walnut
English Walnut trees are the famous nut bearing trees. They grow almost solely in California. Sap production can be abundant, especially if the climate during winter and spring is cold. For most syrup trees, sap runs the best on days with temperatures around 40° after a night under 30°. It should be sunny with little wind on a good tapping day.
Tree #5: Heartnut
Heartnut trees produce a sweet sap with less yield compared to the sugar maple.
On days when the sap is running well you may need to empty a gallon bucket of sap twice a day. The fresh sap can be drunk straight, as a spring tonic. It is mildly sweet and refreshing after a winter with few fresh foods.
Tree #6: Paper Birch
The entire birch family produces abundant sap that can be made into a mild syrup. Birches are a great option for home syrup makers because they are so common across the country.
Paper Birch syrup might not be sweet when compared to maple, but it is the sweetest among the birch varieties.
Tree #7: Yellow Birch
If you have yellow birch on your property you have access to a highly nutritious sap. This particular type of birch has a low sugar content, so its syrup isn’t as sweet as maple syrup. However it is very high in antioxidants, making it a good health boosting spring tonic.
Birch sap is good for much more than just making delicious syrup. It can be used to create a healthy mineral water, brew beer, ferment wine or make a flavorful raw vinegar. Learn all about the uses of birch sap from Fergus the Wildman.
Tree #8: River Birch
If you have river birch in your yard you probably are used to seeing it as a spreading pest. These beautiful trees can dominate your yard, but they do produce abundant amounts of sap. Before you try to rid your property of river birch, try tapping the trees once. You might just decide they’re worth keeping around.
Tree #9: White Birch
Originally from Europe, white birch is now a common tree across the United States. It produces ample amounts of sap that produce a very mild syrup. If you have any type of birch growing near you, try tapping a few trees next winter. While the amount and sweetness of their sap varies, nearly all varieties of birch can be used as syrup trees.
Tree #10: Sycamore
While the sugar content of sycamore is lower than that of the sugar maple tree, it produces a syrup with a special butterscotch flavor. No matter what type of tree you tap, make sure it is healthy. You should avoid tapping immediately below large knots or at the crotch of a low branch.
How to Tap a Sycamore
Sycamore sap can be drunk as a hydrating liquid if water is scarce. The technique used here can also be used to collect sap for syrup making. Note that he does say sycamore has a low sugar content, so you’ll need to collect a lot of sap to make syrup.
Tree #11: Ironwood
Ironwood trees produce sap later in the spring than other syrup trees. They have a low sugar content and produce a lower volume of sap than either maple or birch, so you won’t want to depend on them for your only source of syrup.
Tree #12: Blue Spruce Pine
You can actually buy blue spruce pine syrup in stores around the Rocky Mountain West just like you would purchase maple syrup. But don’t get confused. Pine syrups are not actually made from sap. They are produced by boiling the needles or bark to release the flavor. The liquid is sweetened with sugar or honey and boiled down into a syrup.
How to Tap a Syrup Tree
Tapping any of the syrup trees we’ve listed here is very similar to tapping a sugar maple tree. You have to drill a hole in the tree, preferably on the sunniest side. Then you place a spile or spigot in the hole (these can be homemade) and the sap will slowly drain out. Later the sap must be boiled down to achieve a thick, sweet syrup.
For more detailed information on tapping a maple tree or other syrup tree, check out this useful website.