Manitoba Maple Syrup Available to Urban Foragers

Manitoba maples, Acer negundo, can also be tapped to make maple syrup and sugar. Although commercial syrup comes exclusively from the sugar maple, A. saccharum, sap from other maple species can also be used. Similar syrups can be made from other tree species such as birch and palm.

Manitoba maples (or box elders) are generally considered an invasive weed species here in southern Ontario. They are one of the first and most abundant tree species to colonize disturbed ground, especially bottomland. Urban foragers might find an opportunity in this abundance. Syrup production may be labour-intensive, but we forage because we can, right? It is all about finding nutrition and flavour in unexpected places.

As a child I played in a small woodlot full of Manitoba maples. Their sprawling, thick trunks were ideal for climbing and building treeforts. I remember tasting sap from the nail wounds. Like other saps it had only a hint of taste, more brightness than sweetness. I might even have tried to boil some down. Another idea probably distracted me before the job could be completed. I had no idea Manitoba maple syrup has a long history.

I learned about it this morning while reading I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People, by Arthur J. Ray. Iroquois and French-Canadian voyageurs travelling between Montreal and Central Canada in the 18th Century, to supplement the corn hominy and pork fat they carried with them, purchased food from native groups along the route. The Ojibwa living west of Lake Superior produced, among other things, Manitoba maple syrup.

According to Aagaard Farms in Brandon, people in those parts continue to tap Manitoba maples. Sugar maples have trouble establishing themselves in the Prairies due to severe winter cold. Maybe urbanites elsewhere can take this lesson in resourcefulness from the Ojibwa and Manitobans. This syrup is different, having a flavour that is variously described as slightly vanilla, herbal or musty compared to sugar maple syrup.

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