Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #9: Sugar Maple

Common Name:

Sugar Maple

Latin Name: Acer Saccharum

Brief Description:
Sugar maple is a deciduous tree, normally growing to heights of 12-24m. The leaves can reach up to 20cm long and wide, and have 5 palmate lobes. In spring/summer, this tree will be filled with green leaves but towards fall, it will start to color unevenly. It may be distinguished in the wintertime by its sharply pointed, multi-scaled, narrowly conical buds, which are pale brown The end bud is about ¼ inch long, with side buds being smaller. Sugar maple branches are opposite.
Parts Used:
Inner bark, leaves, sap, seed, seedlings
Edible Uses:
Syrup!!! (pancakes, French toast, sweetener for tea...) Some First Nations people combined maple sugar with powdered sweet corn as an energy food for long journeys, or as the base for a sauce used in roast venison preparations. Sap can also be converted into vinegar (7).
Seedlings gathered in early April could also be washed, chopped and added to salads or soups (7).
Medicinal Uses:
Traditionally used in treatment of coughs and diarrhoea. Sap is used as cough syrup. Boiled leaves can be applied topically as a poultice for boils. Decoction of leaves and bark in the treatment of sore eyes. A decoction of leaves/bark is also thought to strengthen the liver and kidneys. Generally considered a tonic (for liver, kidney, spleen and nerves)(6).
Maple sap is often high in oligosaccharides (biochemically, a small sized carbohydrate consisting of 3-9 simple sugars/monosaccharides). It has been shown that oligosaccharides serve as pre-biotic nutrients. Pre-biotic oligosaccharides have been shown to feed beneficial intestinal micro-flora, while suppressing other intestinal bacteria. Some studies have shown that maple sap may serve as a good medium for the growth and production of probiotic bacteria for supplemental use in humans. Thus, maple sap may be a good option for non-dairy source probiotic drinks. However, some people may have difficulty digesting oligosaccharides, making the consumption of pre-biotic rich foods, such as maple sap, problematic in these populations(8,9).
Maple sap and syrup contain antioxidant properties. Syrup has more anti-oxidant capacity than the sap. Maple syrup has a similar ORAC value (a measure of anti-oxidant value) as strawberry and orange juices. Some maple syrup extracts have also shown in vitro anti cancer action (4).
Maple sap is said to contain Abscisic acid. Studies using mouse models have shown promise for maple sap, via Abscisic acid, to have potent anti diabetic effects in mice along with anti-inflammatory action in inflammatory bowel disease and atherosclerosis. This research is preliminary and requires further research.
Body System’s Treated:
Respiratory, nervous system,liver, kidneys, spleen, digestive
Other Uses:
Fuel, Potash, preservative, wood
Harvesting Notes:
Maple trees should be at least 1 foot in diameter (about 40 years old) before they can be tapped, and no tree should have more than 3 taps. Place taps near bottom of the tree slanting upwards to allow sap to slowly drain into containers. Make sure containers have lids so rain water cannot dilute the sap. Look to harvest in late winter/early spring. A large maple will yield 3-6pounds of sap annually.
None known
1) http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Acer+saccharum

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_saccharum

3) http://www.foodreference.com/html/artmaplesyrup.html

4) Jean Legault, Karl Girard-Lalancette, Carole Grenon, Catherine Dussault, and André Pichette.Journal of Medicinal Food.
April 2010, 13(2): 460-468. doi:10.1089/jmf.2009.0029.

5) Some Aromatic Compounds in Sap Composition of Maple Sap and Syrup V. J. FILIPIC and J. C. UNDERWOOD. Journal of Food Science vol 29 issue 4 pp 464-469 , July 1964.

6)Hutchens, Alma. Indian Herbology of North America. Shambhala Publications, 1973.

7) Harris, Ben Charles. Eat the Weeds. Barre Publishers, 1971.

8)Lett Appl Microbiol. 2008 Dec;47(6):500-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-765X.2008.02451.x.Maple sap as a rich medium to grow probiotic lactobacilli and to produce lactic acid.Cochu A1, Fourmier D, Halasz A, Hawari J.

9) Bode, L. (2009). "Human milk oligosaccharides: prebiotics and beyond.".Nutrition Reviews 67(2): S183–91. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00239.x.

10) Bassaganya-Riera, J; Skoneczka, J; Kingston, DG; Krishnan, A; Misyak, SA; Guri, AJ; Pereira, A;Carter, AB; Minorsky, P; Tumarkin, R; Hontecillas, R(2010). "Mechanisms of action and medicinal applications of abscisic Acid". Current medicinal chemistry 17 (5): 467–78.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Social - Save the Date!

London's Carolinian Food Forest presents the 1st annual South Branch Spring Social. Come on down for free food, free trees, free fun!

Saturday May 23rd from 11 am - 3 pm at the Carolinian Food Forest in South Branch Park.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Starting Native Plants From Seed Indoors

The icy grip of February is still upon us and spring seems very far away.  You're probably itching to open up your seed packs and start those tomatoes or peppers but it might be a bit early.

There are seeds that can be started right now however.

Assortment of Carolinian seeds.

Seeds from most annual plants can be sown in spring and will grow no problem but many native plants seeds start off dormant and require a period of stratification to break this dormancy before the seed can grow.

Different seeds require different types of stratification and it's sometimes a matter of trial and error before you can determine which stratification method will work.  Mimicking the natural cycle of a seed in its native environment will usually do the trick; and most native seeds will have documented stratification info somewhere.

The most common type of stratification required is where the seed is moist and cool for a period of time but sometimes a warm moist period or combinations of the two may be needed as well.

Stratification can be done naturally by planting the seed outside in the fall and letting the seeds go through their natural cycle to break the dormancy or it can be mimicked indoors.  This method is probably the simplest and least labour intensive.

Stratifying indoors can be done using a variety of methods but one method that is quite successful is the 'baggie method'.

Nodding onion ready for the fridge.

The baggie method involves using a seal-able plastic bag and moist coffee filters/paper towels/cotton balls.  Cut the coffee filter in half an fold in half a couple times.  Dip the coffee filter in water and then squeeze out the excess water until the filter is damp but not soaking wet.  Open up the coffee filter and place your seeds inside then close the filter. Place the filter inside the bag and seal it up.  Label your bag with the name of the plant and the stratification details. (ie. date put into fridge and date to take out of fridge).

If the seeds require cold stratification place them in the fridge for the prescribed amount of time.  Its a good idea to periodically check your seeds just in case they have germinated a bit early.

Container of seeds being stratified in the fridge.

Some seeds will require only a few weeks in the fridge whereas others may require months.  It is a good idea to plan ahead when to start stratification so you can time putting seedlings outdoors in good weather.

These pawpaw seeds require 100 days cold stratification.

Once you have noticed your seeds germinating it is time to plant them into soil.  Tweezers are quite handy for picking up the germinated seeds.  Plant into seed starting mix and place in a sunny location until they are large enough to plant outdoors in spring.

Happy growing!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #7: Winter Green

Common Name:  


Latin Name: Gaultheria procumbens

Brief Description:

Gaultheria procumbens is an evergreen shrub growing to 0.2 m (0ft 8in) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Oct to December. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Parts Used/Edible Uses:   

Edible Parts: Fruit; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.
Fruit - raw or cooked. It has a very strong spicy taste. Best after a frost, the fruit hangs onto the plant until spring if it is not eaten by birds etc. The fruits can also be used in pies, or made into jams etc. The fruit is up to 15mm in diameter.  A stronger tea can be made by first fermenting the bright red leaves. 'Oil of wintergreen' can be distilled from this plant. It is used to flavour beer, sweets, chewing gum etc.

Medicinal Uses:

Analgesic;  Anti-inflammatory;  Anti-rheumatic;  Aromatic;  Astringent
Carminative; Diuretic;   Stimulant;  Tonic.

Other Uses: Essential.

An essential oil is obtained from the leaves by steam distillation. In order to obtain the oil, the leaves need to be steeped for 12 - 24 hours in water. The essential oil is used as a food flavouring, medicinally (the original source of Wintergreen oil used as a liniment for aching muscles) and in perfumery and toothpastes. In large doses it can be toxic. A good ground-cover plant for shady positions though it requires weeding for the first year or so. Forming a dense tuft-like carpet, it roots as it spreads and should be spaced about 45cm apart each way.


The pure distilled essential oil is toxic in large doses. If used orally may aggravate stomach ulcers. Do not use if allergic to aspirin. Avoid if less than 12. Topical use can cause contact dermatitis.


Sunday, January 18, 2015


Here's a recipe for a tasty treat to warm you up on a cold Canadian winter day.

Candied Wild Ginger, from dried rhizomes-2013

Candied Wild Ginger Recipe

  • 1.5 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 50 grams dried dried Wild Ginger broken into 1/2′′ to 2′′ pieces. (rootlets rubbed off).
  • extra sugar for coating when done.
  • bring the water to a boil
  • give your dry Wild Ginger a quick but thorough scrub in cold water.
  • add Wild Ginger pieces to boiling water, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • stir in sugar till dissolved and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • set aside to cool down to room temperature
  • once cooled, put it in a jar and let it sit for 2 days in a covered non metallic jar.
  • drain all the liquid and let the Wild Ginger pieces stand in a colander till they stop dripping.
  • take 1 cup of sugar for each 50 grams of original dried Wild Ginger, mix the sugar and Ginger in a bowl till the ginger no longer picks up sugar granules. 
  • let them dry
  • put your candied Wild Ginger loosely into a well sealed glass or ceramic jar to keep for future use. 

*recipe and image from apothecarysgarden.com

Friday, January 9, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #6: Wild Ginger

Common Name:

Wild Ginger (Snake Root)

Latin Name: Asarum canadense
Brief Description:
On a cold winter day there is no Carolinian plant species that can warm up your insides like wild ginger can.  It is a spicy and aromatic herb, which means that it is great for treating symptoms associated with cold and stagnation (or those associated with Canadian winters!), such as cold extremities, bloating, bad breath, gas and malaise.

The name ‘wild ginger’ itself can be a bit misleading, since wild ginger and common ginger (Zingiber officinalis) are not related plant species.  However, one sniff of wild ginger root will have you convinced that they are of the same family.  Some wild food foragers claim that wild ginger rhizomes can be used as a substitute for Zingiber in cooking.

Wild ginger is also diaphoretic, which means that it can be used to maximize fever.  Adding a couple of table spoons of powdered ginger root to a bath can help speed recovery from the common cold.

Wild ginger is an erect perennial, growing up to 4-12 inches high. Each plant bears a pair of large velvety, heart-shaped leaves. Growing at ground level in the crotch between 2 leafstalks is a single darkish, red-brown to green-brown flower. The flower is usually hidden at ground level in solitary below the leaves.
Parts Used: Root
Edible Uses: Carminative to flavour stir fries, soups etc..  Candied ginger root was traditionally used on long journeys to combat digestive upset from eating spoiled foods.
Medicinal Uses:
Used in the treatment of nausea and digestive upset.  Native Americans and traditional herbalists use wild ginger rhizome to regulate menstruation and irregular heartbeat. (in other words, to treat a “damp-cold uterus”).   Wild ginger is also known to be diaphoretic (inducing, and maximize fevers).
Body System’s Treated: Digestive tract, female reproductive tract, cardiovascular system, immune system.
Harvesting Notes:
Pick without destroying the perennial, and push back any loose soil once done. You can harvest many times a year, but autumn is best.  Dry/crush the root to maximize its flavour.
Leaves may be poisonous and cause dermatitis in some people (skin irritation).
The Complete Natural Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs
Christine Dennis, Registered Herbalist.  2010 Herbal Field Experience. Course notes.
Rosalee de la Foret. Learning Herbs.  Taste of Herbs Course Notes, 2013.
Richard Vuskinic, ND. Clinical Pearls, 2015.