top of page

Maple Syrup: A Sweet Journey into Health, History, and Nature

Part of the SEELEDU collection of Connecting to nature : Exploring practices to deepen your connection to nature. This is your deep dive into the traditional practice of maple sugaring. 


Maple syrup, with its rich history and sweet allure, is not just a delectable topping for pancakes; it is a golden elixir that intertwines health benefits, centuries-old traditions, and a deep connection to nature. As a native of New Hampshire, USA where maple syrup tradition and culture are a time honored practice, I am honored to be your guide sharing stories from our home maple syrup production and diving into the world of maple syrup unveiling a journey that transcends mere culinary delight, offering a glimpse into the intricate tapestry of its production, the fascinating historical roots that bind it to North American heritage, and the ways in which maple syruping can foster a profound connection with the natural world. 


Join us as we explore the sweet symphony of maple syrup – from its origins in ancient traditions to its modern-day significance as a symbol of health, history, and harmony with nature.


A glass bottle filled with amber maple syrup is in front of a maple tree flanked by two maple sugar buckets. The ground is covered in snow and the background is a misty morning with the forest peaking through
Our traditional home crafted, wood-fired & hand bottled maple syrup © SEELEDU 2024


Connection to Nature: Maple Syrup


As the sun rises on a crisp spring morning, the sweet aroma of boiling maple sap fills the air, beckoning me to step a little closer to the crackling fire. I think on this ancient ritual, passed down through generations, as more than just a means of producing a sweet elixir - it's a profound connection to the natural world that nourishes both body and soul. Maple syrup, with its rich history and cultural significance, offers a gateway to understanding the delicate balance of our ecosystems and the importance of preserving these precious resources. In the passages that follow, we'll explore the health benefits, rich history and cultural traditions of this beloved North American treasure, inviting you to deepen your own relationship with the natural world.



 

A sweet history: Maple Syrup


The arrival of spring in New Hampshire, is always marked by the sweet smell of boiling maple sap wafting through the air. Children eagerly await the annual maple sugaring season, excited for tasty treats like maple candies, popcorn and maple syrup dripped on fresh snow. My family ventures out into the snowy woods to tap the towering sugar maple trees that dot our property. With buckets in hand, we carefully collect the precious clear sap, then spend long hours tending the wood-fired evaporator, patiently boiling down the liquid into the thick, amber-colored maple syrup that will grace our breakfast table for the rest of the year. This time-honored tradition, passed down through generations, instills a deep appreciation for the rich history and artistry behind one of nature's most delectable gifts. From the indigenous peoples who first discovered maple's sweet bounty to the modern maple producers who carry on the legacy, the story of maple syrup is a testament to the ingenuity, resilience, and connection to the land that defines the culture of the Northeast.


Maple syrup has deep roots in New Hampshire’s cultural heritage beginning with the Indigenous tribes and original inhabitants of North America. Long before the arrival of European explorers and French missionaries, Indigenous peoples followed a multi-step process for collecting and condensing sugar maple sap into sweeteners; a process refined and passed down orally from one generation to the next (Cotnoir, 2021)


“Indian woman tapping maple sap”; Reed, Roland, 1864-1934, photographer; 1908; courtesy of Library of Congress
“Indian woman tapping maple sap”; Reed, Roland, 1864-1934, photographer; 1908; courtesy of Library of Congress

The Abenaki

The Abenaki people of New Hampshire have resided in the northeast since the glaciers receded at the end of the last Ice Age an estimated 11,000 - 10,000 years ago (Snow, 1976). The Abenaki are a group of Native American Algonquian-speaking peoples that lived- and continue to reside - in a region called Wabanaki- pronounced “wah-bah-NAH-kee” - and translating to "the land of the dawn”. The dawn lands consist of a territory now encompassing  parts of Quebec the Maritimes of Canada and northern sections of New England including Vermont, New Hampshire, and upstate New York.






In traditional Abenaki sugaring, maples were tapped by cutting a diagonal notch in the bark and then a flat spile made of cedar or slippery elm was inserted just below the bark layer. The sap would then drip down the wood spile into clay or woven birch-bark sap baskets - called maskwaijo - placed at the foot of the trees. Birch bark is a remarkably pliable material and in this case was folded to make a water-tight container (Chenevert, 2021; & Vermont Historical Society). Next, in order to reduce the amount of water in the sap prior to boiling, the container was left to freeze and the ice forming on top of the maskwaijo was discarded sometimes with children eating it as a snack. 



“Indian sugar camp / Capt. S. Eastman, U.S. Army” ; John C. McRae.; McRae, John C., engraver; 1853; courtesy of Library of Congress
“Indian sugar camp / Capt. S. Eastman, U.S. Army” ; John C. McRae.; McRae, John C., engraver; 1853; courtesy of Library of Congress


Once the sap bucket was full it would be poured into larger carrying buckets and then poured again into clay pots over coals or a fire to boil and condense (Chenevert, 2021).



Vermont farmer Albert Leland gathering sap with a yoke. Photo: Tom Olson Collection
Vermont farmer Albert Leland gathering sap with a yoke. Photo: Tom Olson Collection

Maple Syrup & the arrival of European Settlers

The early settlers likely learned the process of collecting sap and boiling it to make syrup from the Indigenous peoples. In the 17th century, dairy farmers began producing maple syrup during their off season for an additional income (Pressman, 2017). They drilled holes in trees, hung buckets underneath the holes, and called their maple trees "sugar bushes." Once enough sap had been collected, farmers would haul the sap to a larger tank and then up to the sugar house in the woods to be boiled. 



 “... There is no lack of sugar in these forests. In the spring the maple-trees contain a fluid resembling that which the canes of the islands contain. The women busy themselves in receiving it in vessels of bark, which it trickles from these trees; they boil it, and obtain from it a fairly good sugar” (Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France. 1610- 1791., pg. 95). One of the first written accounts of the Abenaki sugar-making process written by Jesuit Sebastien Rasle on October 15, 1722 while living among the Kennebec Abenaki

According to James Lawrence and Rux Martin (1993) in their book, Sweet Maple, around the time of the American Revolution maple sugar was touted as a patriotic and “moral” alternative to sugar cane produced by slaves in the British-controlled West Indies and maple syrup was a valuable commodity in the 1700s and 1800s, serving as one of the primary sweeteners in the United States (McConnell & Graham, 2012)



A crisp winter morning depicts a traditional barrel stove maple syrup cook with steam rising from the evaporator pans. A woman in a red jacket stands behind the cook, her face obscured by the rising steam. A fire hints through the cracked door and under the pans
Modern meets traditional. Our home maple syrup production with traditional evaporator pans and barrel stove. © SEELEDU 2024



By the mid 1800s, maple production spread among European settlers - who later refined the original techniques replacing birch-bark baskets, wooden spiles, and clay pots with tin buckets, spigots, and eventually metal evaporator pans. Maple sap was produced into maple sugar, a granular, solid block of maple that had a long shelf-life and could be easily transported (UVM, 2024)









Technology remained largely the same for the next century until the energy crisis of the 1970s forced maple syrup producers to change their labor-intensive process (UVM, 2024). With technological breakthroughs, such as: tubing systems which take sap directly from the tree to the sugarhouse; vacuum pumps; pre-heaters to "recycle" heat lost in the steam; and reverse-osmosis filters that take a portion of the water out of the sap before it is boiled, the story of maple syrup moves forward while reflecting the steps Indigenous sugar makers have been using over generations. 



Tapping into Sweetness: Producing Maple Syrup


Maple syrup is made by concentrating the slightly sweet sap of the sugar maple tree. In our family sugar operation the process starts with drilling a tap hole into the maple tree and collecting the sap, which is mostly crystal-clear water with about 2% sugar content. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The collected sap is then concentrated through evaporation (boiling) to produce the syrup. The sap is boiled until it reaches the proper density and becomes maple syrup, which is approximately 67% sugar and 33% water. The syrup is then filtered, adjusted for density, and graded for flavor and color. The traditional method of making maple syrup takes place in a building called a "sugarhouse" or "maple house" where the sap is boiled down in an evaporator. 



two metal evaporation pans are filled with sap. They are different shades of rich amber brown showing the concentration process through boiling and evaporation
Fresh collected sap is concentrated through evaporation or boiling to produce syrup. © SEELEDU 2024


Sweetening your health: the benefits of maple syrup

Maple Syrup is a sweet elixir for your Well-Being. Maple syrup is often touted as a healthier alternative to refined sugar, and for good reason. While it is still high in sugar, maple syrup does offer some potential health benefits that make it a more desirable sweetener option. Traditionally, Indigenous people have long recognized the health benefits of maple syrup using it various methods such as to cure meats, as a sweetener for bitter medicines and as an anesthetic. Maple sugar was also an essential food source, providing nutrition and energy during harsh winter months when other food sources were scarce (MPM, 2023). Modern science highlights that maple syrup offers various health benefits, making it a favorable alternative to refined sugar. Some of the key health benefits of maple syrup include:


  • Antioxidant Properties: Maple syrup contains natural antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative damage, protecting cells from free radicals (Phillips, 2009; Muhammed, 2023)

  • Nutrient Content: It is a source of essential minerals like manganese, zinc, calcium, potassium, and iron (Muhammed, 2023). Zinc can help fight illness and improve immunity since it keeps your level of white blood cells up, while manganese plays a role a crucial role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation, brain and nerve function.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: The polyphenol antioxidants supplied in maple syrup can help reduce inflammation, being considered a part of a healthy diet in preventing diseases like arthritis and heart disease


Amber rich maple syrup streams from a glistened spoon into a fresh filled jar of handcrafted, fire cooked, traditional maple syrup
Maple syrup is high in antioxidants being one of nature's sweetest creations © SEELEDU 2024

  • Skin Health: Maple syrup can be used topically to lower skin inflammation, redness, and dryness, similar to raw honey. Maple syrup also has regenerating properties being rich in vitamin B1 and vitamin B2 (Muhammed, 2023), which helps strengthen and tone the structure of the skin. Maple syrup contains no less than 65 different polyphenols that act against premature aging of the skin. 


  • Digestive Health: Maple syrup can be a better alternative to refined sugar for improved digestion. Consuming high levels of refined sugar can contribute to candida, IBS, leaky gut syndrome and other digestive system disorders (Myers, 2023).  

  • Emotional Wellness: tending to your own maple grove and starting a home cook can increase overall wellbeing through connecting with nature. Connecting with nature offers a wide range of benefits for mental, physical, and spiritual health making it a valuable aspect of overall well-being.



 

Scientific benefits of nature connection: 


And more! 


 

Cultivating Connection to Nature: Maple Syrup


Maple syrup is a symbol of connection to the land and cultural identity throughout North American history. We can honor this rich tradition and cultivate our own nature connections. The following are some of my favorite techniques to use:


Ceremony: give offerings and thanks to maple trees, signifying the end of winter and the promise of spring. Alternatively honor the rich traditions and cultural heritage, giving gratitude to the woods that have given life and sustained the northeastern communities throughout generations. 


 •Practice & Observation: tapping your own trees taps you directly into the cycles of nature. Maple sap production is dependent on weather conditions, leading to an ongoing intimate dialog with your surroundings. With practice you notice differences in wind, temperature, the angle of the sun, and other various conditions. 


Mindfulness: Exploring mindfulness in nature is a healing practice that nourishes both us and the environment we move through.


  • Moving meditation: walking the same paths to check your buckets offers a daily opportunity to delight in a moving meditation (link to present moment, wonderful moment).  


  • Sound & sight

  • Trataka is a Sanskrit word, which means "to look" or "to gaze." As such, this meditation technique involves starting at a single point of focus. Use trataka as you watch the maple sap boil and reduce to maple syrup or practice trataka watching drops of sap drip directly into the maple pail.


  • Grounding: tap into all of your senses as you cook your sap. Bring special attention to your sense of smell. Can you recognize as the sap condenses and the air becomes more sweet? As you collect your sap, hear the crunch of snow underneath your boots, or feel your core engage walking through the woods while carrying buckets or take note of the change of weight as you collect more sap and your buckets become more full. 


  • Green mindfulness: Green mindfulness involves being aware of and cultivating a deep connection with nature, emphasizing the reciprocal relationship with nature. Take note of the health of your trees, the conditions of the year, and when the first buds of spring arrive to develop your stewardship and reciprocal relationship with the land.

  • Pro-environmental behavior: connectedness to nature directly affects our relationship with nature, meaning by connecting with nature, we are more inclined to act in a reciprocal relationship with it and engage in pro-environmental behavior. When tapping your own trees you embark as a steward of the land and become deeper immeshed in the interwoven web of existence. 


Nature's sweetest connection: a Maple Syrup journey



An amber filled jug of maple syrup tied with a twine label, sits on a cut tree in the forest. The mist engulfs the image with a small cascade of waterfalls in the background
Our traditional home crafted, wood-fired & hand bottled maple syrup © SEELEDU 2024


As I reflect on the rich history, the intricate process, and the remarkable health benefits of maple syrup, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder. This golden elixir, born from the very heart of nature, has not only nourished our bodies but also our souls throughout North American history.


In the quiet solitude of the sugar maples, I have found a deep connection to the rhythms of the earth. The gentle tapping of the sap, the crackling of the fire, and the sweet aroma that fills the air – these are the sensations that transport me to a place of serenity and balance. It is here, amidst the towering trees, the fresh air and the ever-changing seasons, that I, like so many before me, feel alive, grounded, and in tune with our natural world.


The journey of maple syrup is a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit. From the indigenous peoples who first discovered its wonders to the generations of farmers and producers who have carried on this tradition, each step has been marked by a deep respect for the land and a commitment to preserving its bounty. In this age of disconnection and fast-paced living, the act of making maple syrup offers a rare opportunity to slow down, to connect, and to find solace in the simple pleasures of life.


As you savor the rich, complex flavors of this liquid gold, I hope you too will be inspired to seek out the natural wonders that surround us. Whether it's tapping your own maple trees, visiting a local sugar house, or simply incorporating more maple syrup into your daily life, I encourage you to embrace the sweetness of this journey and let it nourish your body, mind, and spirit.


For in the end, the true value of maple syrup lies not just in its taste or its health benefits, but in its ability to remind us of our deep and abiding connection to the natural world. It is a connection that, if nurtured and cherished, has the power to heal, to inspire, and to transform us, one drop at a time.




 

SEELEDU logo in green.

What can SEELEDU do for you?


SEELEDU explores the journey of being human and nurtures nature connections for health and well-being. SEELEDU is based in science and grounded in nature. Practicing in ecopsychology combining traditional healing, ancient wisdom and recognizing the mutual compassion and nurturing ability between nature and humans, SEELEDU offers live and online programming, development and learning for holistic, whole-body well-being.



 

References

Barbaro, N., Pickett, S.M. (2016). Mindfully green: Examining the effect of connectedness to nature on the relationship between mindfulness and engagement in pro-environmental behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 93. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886915003657


Barton, J., Pretty, J. (2010). What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science and Technology. 44: 3947-3955.


Bratman, G.N., Hamilton, J.P., Hahn, K.S. & Gross, J.J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenus prefrontal cortex activation. Pyschological and cognitive sciences. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1510459112


Chenevert, M. (2021).  Maple sugaring among the Abenaki and Wabanaki peoples. Nulhegan Abenaki Historical and Cultural Preservation Dept. Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk- Abenaki Nation. https://abenakitribe.org/about-maple-syrup


Cotnoir, A. (2021). Sugaring in Wabanahkik (Land of the Dawn)

An Abenaki History of Maple.


Historical Society of Cheshire County. Abenaki history for kids.  


Kuo, F. E., Taylor, A. F. (2004) A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. American Journal of Public Health. 94(9): 1580-1586.


J. Lee, B.-J. Park, Y. Tsunetsugu, T. Ohira, T. Kagawa, Y. Miyazaki,Effect of forest bathing on physiological and psychological responses in young Japanese male subjects, Public Health,Volume 125, Issue 2, 2011, Pages 93-100,ISSN 0033-3506, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2010.09.005.


Lawrence, J.M., & Martin, R. (1993). Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes from the Sugarbush. Published by Houghton Mifflin / Vermont Life. 


Li, Q., Nakadai, A., Matsushima, H., Miyazaki, Y., Krensky, A., Kawada, T., Morimoto, K. (2006) Phytoncides (Wood Essential Oils) Induce Human Natural Killer Cell Activity. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, 28:319-333.


Li Q, Morimoto K, Nakadai A, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Shimizu T, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Suzuki H, Miyazaki Y, Kagawa T, Koyama Y, Ohira T, Takayama N, Krensky AM, Kawada T. Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2007 Apr-Jun;20(2 Suppl 2):3-8. doi: 10.1177/03946320070200S202. PMID: 17903349.


Li Q, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y,Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Kawada T, Park BJ, Ohira T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. (2009).Effect of Phytoncide from Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 22(4):951-959.


Li Q. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):9-17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3. PMID: 19568839; PMCID: PMC2793341.


Mao G.X., Cao, Y.B., Lan, X.G., He, Z.H., Chen, Z.M., Wang, Y.Z., Hu, X.L., Lv, Y.D., Wang, G.F., Yan, J. (2012). Therapeutic Effect of Forest Bathing on Human Hypertension in the Elderly. Journal of Cardiology. 60:495-502.


McConnell, T. E., & Graham, G.W. (2012). History of Northeastern US Maple Syrup Price Trends. https://holmes.osu.edu/sites/holmes/files/imce/Program_Pages/Maple/secondroundFeb18/McConnell%20and%20Graham%20FPJ%2066%281-2%29106-112.pdf



Mohammed F, Sibley P, Abdulwali N, Guillaume D. Nutritional, pharmacological, and sensory properties of maple syrup: A comprehensive review. Heliyon. 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10469071/


Myers, A. (2023). How does sugar contribute to a leaky gut? https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/sugar-and-gut-health


Ohtsuka Y, Yabunaka N, Takayama S. Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing and walking) effectively decreases blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. Int J Biometeorol. 1998 Feb;41(3):125-7. doi: 10.1007/s004840050064. PMID: 9531856.


Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Kasetani T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):18-26. doi: 10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9. PMID: 19568835; PMCID: PMC2793346.


Bum-Jin Park, Katsunori Furuya, Tamami Kasetani, Norimasa Takayama, Takahide Kagawa, Yoshifumi Miyazaki,Relationship between psychological responses and physical environments in forest settings, Landscape and Urban Planning,Volume 102, Issue 1, 2011, Pages 24-32, ISSN 0169-2046,


Phillips, K.M., Carlsen, M.H. & Blomhoff, R. (2009). Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar. Journal of the Academy of Nutrion and Dietetics. https://www.jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(08)01891-9/abstract?cc=y%3D


Pressman, A., & Burke, S. (2017). MAPLE SUGARING: AN INTRODUCTION TO SMALL-SCALE COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION. Sustainable Agriculture. https://attra.ncat.org/publication/maple-sugaring-an-introduction-to-small-scale-commercial-production/


Snow, D. R. (1976). The Ethnohistoric Baseline of the Eastern Abenaki. Ethnohistory, 23(3), 291–306. https://doi.org/10.2307/481256


The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 ; the Original French, Latin, and Italian Texts, with English Translations and Notes. (1900). United States: Burrows Bros. Company. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Jesuit_Relations_and_Allied_Document/6MwxAbXpaHYC?hl=en&gbpv=0


Tsunetsugu, Y., Lee, L., Park, B.-J., Tyrväinen, L., Kagawa,T., Miyazaki, Y. (2013) Physiological and Psychological Effects of Viewing Urban Forest Landscapes Assessed by Multiple Measurements. Landscape and Urban Planning. 113: 90-93.


The University of Vermont (2024). Maple Research Guide.  https://researchguides.uvm.edu/c.php?g=290518&p=1936100



Won Sop Shin, Chang Seob Shin , Poung Sik Yeoun & Jae Joon Kim (2011) The influence of interaction with forest on cognitive function, Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, 26:6, 595-598, DOI: 10.1080/02827581.2011.585996

Recent Posts

See All

1件のコメント


Oh, that was so fun to read. I enjoyed the research and the way you transported me to the sugar bush and the boiling of sap. Love the photos. D

いいね!
bottom of page