herbal · nomadique · ritual

Sugar Water Tree

Acer saccharum

Spotting, tapping & learning from the maple tree.


This tree which represents Canada in many ways is actually not apparent across the country and is largely found in the southeast mixed forest in the Canadian Shield.  Maple is big business and small operations have thousands of taps.  Even people with 100 or 200 taps is considered peanuts but once the sap starts running, it can run for weeks under the right circumstances.

If you have access to a sugar maple tree, might I suggest tapping it! The season for tapping maples can be very short, as the trees need above 0C during the day and below freezing at night. So far we have been collecting over 4kg/day from 2 taps. Finding the right conditions can be tricky but well worth the observation.

How to spot a good maple tree:

good tree

  • Make sure you have correctly identified the species. A red maple or silver maple will not turn out the same sap used for maple syrup.
  • Mature maples on south-facing slopes produce the best quality and quantity than those elsewhere. The spigot will be placed on the south side of the tree, where is has the most sun exposure.

maple ice4

How to tap a tree:

  • Kneeling down at the base of the tree trunk, drill a 3/8” hole at about navel to chest height, relatively close to the ground – just enough to hang a bucket from the spigot hook. The hole will ideally be drilled slanted slightly upwards. This is so the water will be drawn down into the spigot by gravity.
  • Using a hammer, tap (don’t whack) the tap (spigot) into the hole until firmly into place, and stable enough to hold a bucket full of maple water.
  • Secure the lid (optional) into the tap using the pin provided. Hang the bucket from the tap hook, and encourage the tree, thanking it for the food you are about to receive from it.
  • Once you are finished with your maple collection, gently pull the tap out of the tree and insert a ball of warm, malleable beeswax. This allows the tree to heal properly by preventing bacteria and insects from entering the tree wound.

What to do with maple water?

filtering maple water

  • Filter it. Preferably with jazzy coloured lights on in the background.  Collect the water from the buckets and filter it through a paper or very fine cloth filter. Leaving the organic residue in the maple water will shorten the shelf life whether it’s processed or not.
  • Drink it but not litres of it. Drinking too much of this delicious water can have a strong laxative effect on the system, especially if you’re not used to it. The best way to enjoy the remineralizing properties of maple is by drinking it first thing in the morning.
  • Reduce it. It takes approximately 120 oz of maple water to make 4 oz of maple syrup, and even that isn’t going to be very thick. But maple concentrate is so heavenly light and sweet.
  • Freeze it. Excess maple water can be poured into popsicle moulds, frozen, then individually wrapped for later use.
  • Broth it. Add the water to soup or bone broths for a unique sweet and sour flavour profile.

The maple run is a late winter, early spring ritual that helps ring in the new year’s harvest and helps us slow down before the snow melts and the leaves bud out. It coincides with “the hungry months” – when winter stores dwindle and before any greens appear.

Resisting the urge to cleanse can be as difficult as following a box cleanse or “master cleanse”. Just kidding. Box cleanses are not a one-size-fits-all cure to beating the winter blues. However, adding lightly laxative foods to your diet for a short period of time can be beneficial mostly in terms of hydration and regulating natural elimination. Our bodies have a great system of self-cleaning in place and our kidneys do the bulk of the work without us even needing to change our diet. Foods such as

Polysaccharides are a chain of sugars that are present in some laxative herbal foods such as sugar maple water and wheatgrass juice. Maple water is hydrating and softens the stool, making it very easy to pass. Drinking lots of the water can increase the frequency as it helps to shorten the colonic transit time. Maple water has been recently advertised as a ‘sports drink’. As an athlete, I personally don’t always want my bowels messed with. It can be marketed as a ‘health drink’ because of its natural active properties of activating the bowels.

But why do we follow the cultural urge to “clean” ourselves as a sense of rejuvenation? Spring cleaning can be applied to many everyday instruments : closets, cars, intestines, sheds, kidneys, floors, livers, pantries, and garages. Do we yearn to feel renewed at this time of the year – the snow is melting, the sun’s warm is finally being felt, and the days are lengthening! As we arise from our spiritual hibernation (or just making it through), we often change our diet to eliminate processed and sugary foods for a period of time hoping to excrete the toxins accumulated in our system from prolonged holiday debauchery.

Maple water isn’t the new coconut water or the new anything. Tapping trees has been done for generations by the indigenous people of Québec and Ontario and it is to them that we owe the gift of learning about tree medicine. Keep tapping and learning to live with the seasons as they come is the real sweet tree.


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