As we head into maple syrup season, I just can't resist giving a shout-out to my beloved maple sap! Read-on to learn more about this beloved spring tonic...
Maple sap is fluid transported in the tree's xylem cells, which transport fluid and nutrients from the tree's roots up to its branches and leaves. Sap runs the most in the spring, as the trees are waking-up, and is the substance that is collected and then boiled down to make maple syrup. Knowing it provides nutrients to the tree as it leafs out in the spring, it only makes sense then that of course sap is rich in many vitamins, minerals, and sugars (typically it is about 2% sugar) essential for health and growth. Maple sap (also called maple water) comes from our native Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and contains many trace minerals including Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese and Calcium, antioxidants, polyphenols, electrolytes, over 50 different micronutrients, and some sources even say prebiotics. It has all the nutritional benefits of maple syrup, but without the high sugar content! Lucky for us, we humans co-evolved with plants and can easily assimilate the vitamins and minerals found in them. I'll take plant-based nutrients over a multi-vitamin any day.
Harmonizing with the Spring
The nutritional benefits of sap are obvious- but there's more! Drinking maple sap harmonizes us with the energy of the spring. I am huge on the concept of "harmonizing with the seasons"- that is- aligning our bodies and psyches with the season at hand so we may best partake in the gifts it has to offer (for instance our bodies naturally want to "wake-up" and cleanse in the spring). Drinking maple sap is one of the surest ways I know to do this. Welcoming that upward moving, nutrient-dense sap into our bodies harmonizes us with the awakening plants, the swelling buds, germinating seeds, and all that upward and outward movement of spring that just cannot be stopped. Connecting to nature in this way is good for both our body and soul.
Historical & Ethnobotanical Uses
Maple sap has long been considered good medicine. In America colonists learned about the Sugar Maple from the indigenous peoples already living here in America, who made great use of maple sap and syrup. Early American colonists used maple sap for rheumatism, arthritis, inflammatory conditions, and as a treasured spring tonic. It is also said to have mild anti-bacterial properties. Globally, in South Korea maple sap is used as a strengthening health tonic, for cleansing, to strengthen the bones (we do know it contains calcium) and even lower blood pressure! My acupuncturist had a big pitcher of it sitting out today, and labelled it "Tree Qi"- I loved that!
How to Use It
I love drinking this straight like water (or even better, right from the tree!). It is also divine to boil it for tea, and then your tea is perfectly sweetened! It's also nice simply warmed-up on it's own and sipped. The fresh stuff should last up to 6 days in the fridge or may be frozen for later use. Bottled maple sap is starting to pop-up as a new beverage on the market (usually sold as "maple water"), so keep an eye out for that if you don't have direct access to your own. Any sugar shack should have plenty as well and might sell it to you if you ask!
Happy almost spring all!
References & Resources
Further investigation into maple syrup yields 3 new lignans, a new phenylpropanoid, and 26 other phytochemicals.
Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Rhode Island , Kingston, RI 02881, USA.
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