During spring when we were preparing our outdoor landscaping and patio for summer cookouts, I was noting the seasonal cycles of “things to do” during a calendar year that occur. The yearly deposit of our Silver Maples seed prompted this reverie. Thousands of helicopter-shaped seed take flight at that time of year, covering our patio and clogging our gutters with one of Mother Nature’s shows of abundance. We have quite a few of the seeds that appear in late May because between our yard and the neighbor’s yard we share almost ten of these wetland loving trees. Instead of getting angry about all of the extra work this creates in our yards, I thought like a forager. Hum, Maple trees what are their uses? Maple syrup in the winter, great wood floors, furniture, firewood and tasty seeds!
Maple trees belong to the genus Acer or Asceraceae with 181 members worldwide and 15 in temperate North America. All produce sap suitable for Maple syrup and sugar. The seeds are also edible but the leaves are not.
Let us assume that the reason Maple seeds have not taken off as a food source is that it is rather tedious to prepare them. The seeds need to be collected and husked to obtain a green seed which is bitter in its raw state. The seeds then need to be boiled for 3 minutes to remove the bitter flavor. At the cooked stage they can then be either buttered and salted and eaten or further processed by roasting in the oven with a little oil and used like one would use sunflower seeds in salads or other dishes.
The big winner in the edible Maple department is maple sugar and syrup. This stuff is the Champaign of sugar. Maple syrup is one of the many wonders of the world and far more than a simple sweetener. Maple syrup is not only rich in essential nutrients such as manganese as well as zinc, but it also contains 34 new beneficial compounds discovered just a few years ago that have been confirmed to play a role in human health.
It should also be noted that a recent study found 5 new compounds unknown to science! As many of you know maple syrup is an agricultural commodity sold in grades. Grade A is light and grade B and C are darker. It should be noted that the darker grades have more antioxidants. Maples are a tree for all seasons and we don’t mind the propellers quite so much.
Caron Wenzel is an Environmental Educator, writer, and is the owner of Blazing Star Inc. a 30-year-old native plant seed nursery and environmental consulting business. Your can visit her website at Blazing-Star.com.