The maple tree is one of nature’s true beauties, especially in the fall when the leaves display their vibrant colors. Not only is it beautiful, but its component parts have varied applications. There are over 100 varieties worldwide, in North America, Canada, across Europe, and in areas of Asia and North Africa. Usually considered a deciduous tree, some types found around North Africa, Southern Europe, and Asia are evergreens. Here we’ll discover more about how to use maple trees.
What You'll Learn Today
Can You Eat A Maple Tree?
From the family Sapindaceae of the genus Acer, the maple tree has elements that can be eaten. Most people are familiar with Maple Syrup, and let’s be honest, pancakes just wouldn’t be the same without it! But there are other elements of a maple tree that you can eat too.
The taste of maple seeds varies from tree to tree, some have a maple flavor to them. If you’re gathering the seeds, which look like the wings of a helicopter, collect them while they are still young, so you get the best sweet taste.
Late spring and early summer are the perfect time for harvesting the seeds, as this is when they will be at their ripest.
Peel off the outer “helicopter” layer, and inside, you’ll find a tiny round seed that resembles a pea.
There are various ways in which you can use maple seeds:
First, shell the seeds and place them in a heavy-based cooking pot. Add enough water to cover them and bring to a boil. Keep a low rolling boil or simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Strain the boiled seeds and allow them to cool.
Take your shelled seeds and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in a preheated oven of 380°F for approximately 10 minutes. Do not allow the seeds to blacken and burn.
When the seeds have developed a slightly nutty brown color, they’ll be done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
You can also roast the seeds in a non-stick pan. Shell them and toss them in a pan on medium heat. Cook until they begin to turn a golden color and have a nutty aroma.
To eat the seeds raw, the pod should be full and green. If it has turned brown and started to shrivel, then you’ll find it has a bitter taste. When you’re out gathering, look for seeds with their stalk attached, they will be younger and make the best eating.
Soak the pods for about an hour to make shelling the seeds that much easier.
A little seasoning enhances the flavor. Traditionally salt and pepper are used. However, it’s totally up to you, and you can add whatever takes your fancy.
Spice them up with a light sprinkling of cayenne pepper or perhaps a dash of cinnamon? Whatever seasoning you choose, be sparing, as you don’t want to smother them.
The seeds can also be ground up to make flour. This is high in protein and carbohydrates and can be used in sauces. Or to make tasty flatbread.
Can You Eat Maple Leaves?
Maple leaves are edible. They’re best when eaten young, as they have a sweeter taste and are a little less chewy than when more mature.
After harvesting, leaves can be preserved for use at a later date.
The best leaves for consumption and preservation come from the Sugar Maple, Red Maple, or Silver Maple.
How To Store Maple Leaves
- Harvest a decent quantity of leaves directly from the tree during spring and early summer – May, June, and July.
- Ensure it hasn’t rained for a couple of days, and pick the leaves in the middle of the day when any dew has evaporated.
- Air-dry the leaves for 24hrs on a large clean towel (or spare, clean bedsheet).
- Cover the bottom of a large plastic storage container with a layer of salt and then place a single layer of leaves on the salt.
- Next, sprinkle a fine layer of salt and repeat the process as though creating a lasagne.
- Continue until you have all of your leaves stored.
- Replace the lid and store it in a cool dark place for up to 10 months.
Cooking With Maple Leaves
It’s OK to pick the leaves straight from the tree and eat them raw. Or, if you prefer, you can steam or deep fry them in a light batter.
Maple leaves cooked in this way are not only a tradition, but they are also completely delicious! This is how to deep fry them:
- If you’re using preserved maple leaves, brush off as much of the salt as possible.
- Make up your favorite batter, but keep it on the slightly thinner side.
- Heat 2 to 3 inches of sunflower oil in a pan, test the temperature with a little batter, and ensure it rises to the surface, then turns golden within 10 seconds.
- Once the oil is at cooking temperature, dip your leaves into the batter. Using a pair of tongs, carefully place them into the hot oil and fry on either side for 15-20 seconds.
- Serve hot with a light dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of Maple Syrup.
Are Maple Tree Flowers Edible?
As with the seeds and leaves, the flowers of the maple tree are also edible. They are best harvested when budding in spring. The base of the flower cluster should be fully open. They can be stored for 48hrs in a glass container in the refrigerator.
As with maple leaves, you can fry them in a light batter or separate them from the stem and sprinkle into things like a pancake batter.
Maple tree flowers can also be used to enhance salads or even be used as a garnish for soup.
Something you may not have considered is pickling the flowers. To do this, you will need to:
- Place a couple of cups of the flowers into a clean jar
- Add a couple of decent pinches of salt and a tablespoon or two of mixed peppercorns
- Cover with apple cider vinegar
If stored in the refrigerator, these will be good for several weeks.
Alternatively, you could take a couple of cups of regular white vinegar and add a pinch of salt, 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar, and half a teaspoon each of coriander seeds and peppercorns.
Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and then pour over the flowers. Stir the pickled flowers as the jar cools and, when cool, store them in the refrigerator.
Is Maple Tree Sap Edible?
Maple tree sap is most definitely edible, as are many other tree saps.
The sugar maple, perhaps not surprisingly, has sap with the highest percentage of sugar. This makes it the most suitable for converting into maple syrup.
However, you don’t have to turn maple sap into syrup. It can make a delicious, all-natural drink loaded with enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients.
Straight from the tree – Although the sap can be boiled before drinking, it’s lovely to drink straight from the tree. This also ensures you get the benefit of all the good bacteria. Providing your utensils, tap, and receptacle are thoroughly clean and sterile, then your sap should be fine to drink in this way.
If you’d rather be sure, to guarantee safety, you can pasteurize your sap by bringing it to the boil, simmering for a few seconds, then rapidly cooling it by putting it into a clean metal container, such as a loaf tin and plunging that into a bucket of ice. Make sure to keep the ice out of the syrup.
If you plan on tapping a tree for the sap, a few guidelines should be followed:
- Ensure that your utensils are sterile.
- Only tap a tree with a diameter exceeding 12 inches.
- If the tree exceeds 24 inches, you can use two taps.
- Drill the hole for your tap approximately 3 feet up from the ground.
- Drill in a slightly upwards direction.
- Pasteurize on the same day that you collect the sap.
- Filter the sap through a muslin cloth before pasteurization.
A single taphole will usually drain approximately 15 gallons of sap. However, it could produce as much as 80 gallons a year in the most favorable conditions.
Sap, like milk, turns sour in the sun. For this reason, you should tap trees in the morning and collect buckets by early afternoon.
Store your sap in a refrigerator and keep it cool. It is best to boil it as soon as possible.
Is Maple Tree Bark Edible?
The bark’s cambium (inner) layer can be dried, roasted, or made into flour.
To grind it down to make flour, use a food processor. It can be used as a wheat flour substitute to make flatbreads and perhaps pancakes that you’ll be making to try out your maple syrup!
To cook the bark, peel off the rubbery white inner part, then gently fry in oil on either side for a couple of minutes until it becomes crispy. The trick here is getting the thickness just right, so a little experimentation may be needed.
How Do You Extract Maple Syrup From A Tree?
Maple syrup, like you buy in the grocery store, doesn’t come straight out of the tree in that ready-to-use state. There are various processes to follow before it reaches your pancakes.
This video will show you how to make maple syrup, from tapping the tree for sap, right through to pouring the delightful sticky goo over your pancakes:
In order to make a single pint of syrup, you will need about 45 pints of sap!
- In a heavy-based pan, boil your sap, evaporating as much of the water as possible. This needs to be done on a rolling boil. Add more sap as the amount in the pot reduces. This happens faster if the pan you use has a large diameter.
- As steam is generated and the water content reduces, the sap will start becoming syrupy. To know when your syrup is almost done, test the temperature. The temperature should be around 219°F (syrup boils at 7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water!) At this point, it will be 66% to 67% sugar content.
- Once you have your syrup bubbling away at 219°F and you’re happy that the water has evaporated, it’s time to start bottling.
- Sterilize the jars and the lids you’re going to use to store your finished syrup.
- Your jars should still be hot from the sterilization to help prevent them from cracking when you pour in the syrup. The syrup should still be at least 185°F
- When the jar is full, screw on the lid and invert the jar for a moment covering the entire inside of the jar and lid. This helps stop the syrup from going bad.
Many parts of the maple tree are edible, making it a beneficial tree for any forager.
Creating your own maple syrup right from the tree is incredibly rewarding and can taste all the better for your effort.
To read more articles about the abundance of foraged foods, take a closer look at our website.