Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring means sap will flow...eventually

Kimberley Maher demonstrated drilling for sap. At right is Roy Churchwell, doctoral student.
Kimberley Maher’s enthusiasm for birch sap was very apparent Saturday. While teaching two free workshops on spring tapping, Maher lauded the merits of sap, but indicated making syrup out of it is a waste of time for her.

When the sap starts flowing each spring Maher collects it and drinks as much as a gallon a day. “When I drink sap I feel great,” she said. “It’s invigorating; it’s delicious and it’s good for you.”

In Asian countries, birch sap is used homeopathically to improve skin and digestion. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years, Maher said. “Birch is an iconic figure, culturally and mythologically,” Maher said. It is associated with Venus, the goddess of love, and in Sweden, engagement rings are made of birch. “In the original Cinderella the godmother was a birch tree,” Maher said. “Magistrates in England carried birch limbs to show their power.”

With birch, the timing for tapping depends on temperature. It’s a different story with maple but for birch it requires two to three days in a row of 50-degree weather for the trees to break dormancy. Normally, the sap is flowing by the third week of April but this year it will be later.

While maple sap has been studied copiously, birch has not. “There is not a lot of knowledge how this tree works,” Maher said.

Birch sap is 99 percent water and 1 percent fructose and glucose sugars. Maher harvests ½ gallon to two gallons per tree each day during the tapping season and has gotten as much as five gallons per day from the best trees.

“I try to be as gentle with the trees as possible,” Maher said. If interested in harvesting sap, visit Maher’s blog for more information. She cautioned against tapping without adequate knowledge as the trees could be damaged. "Tap responsibly," she urged.

The workshops were sponsored by UAF Cooperative Extension Service and UAF's ethnobotany program. Maher is completing her doctoral studies with SNRAS.
Products made with birch sap were on display.
Kimberley Maher showed birch products.
The birch is on the left and the aspen is on the right.

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