Maple Syrup

New Bigleaf Maple Research Supports Growing Industry (2007)

Return to Local Food & Garden

Tapping bigleaf maple sap for syrup, wine and other value-added food products has become a popular activity on Vancouver Island. Thanks, in part, to support programs led by Harold Macy (see page 5) and an Agroforestry Initiative supported project in partnership with Gary Backlund of Backlund's Backwoods which ran from 2003 to 2007, there is a growing community of interested landowners on Vancouver Island and this agroforestry practice has potential for further expansion. Currently, however there is little research to assess the socio-economic viability of expanding the tapping industry. Moreover, the bigleaf maple resource is often dispersed among multiple landowners and therefore land use agreements must be made to secure access and expand tapping enterprises. Additional research and increased awareness will facilitate the growth of the bigleaf maple tapping industry as will developing partnerships and collaborating with a variety of different landowners. To meet these goals, and with funding support from BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, Deirdre Bruce, a University of Victoria graduate student, is leading research and development support to help advance this emerging industry with university, government, industry and First Nations partners.

Deirdre's work employs a 'hands-on', participatory approach to assess the challenges and opportunities of incorporating an agroforestry system for the bigleaf maple on Vancouver Island. This project is being developed collaboratively with the key partner, Glenora Farms in the Cowichan valley and multiple land owners in Port Alberni, Cowichan Valley and Ladysmith. Deirdre is assisting with setting up a demonstration sugar shack, organizing and managing the bigleaf maple tapping and collection, and sharing information and knowledge to assist with evaporating, finishing and bottling syrup. Field work commenced in October 2006 with a survey of potential tapping areas in Glenora, Ladysmith and Port Alberni to assess access and ownership. Where suitable sites were found, landowners were approached to assess their willingness to participate in the research project. Non-exclusive agreements were formed with the private forest company, Island Timberlands, in order to tap trees in Glenora and Ladysmith. In addition, the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations are participating in the research. Tapping for the project commenced with the maple sap run beginning in early December 2006 and was completed in early March of 2007.

A knowledge gap that has restricted the productivity of the West Coast maple tapping industry is the predictability of sap flow. Sap flow is highly dynamic from site-to-site and this project is gathering baseline data that will help to understand the factors that affect daily and seasonal variability. Deirdre has organized a system to collect data on daily sap flow (overall volume of sap per spile per site) to determine differences between microsites as affected by soils, topography and the surrounding vegetation complex. In addition to her own field work, member of the Vancouver Island "Sapsucker" community have been encouraged to collect data on their time spent in the sugarbush and sap flow volumes, in order to improve the scope of the data set.

Bigleaf maple is currently undervalued in the forest industry and there has been little incentive to manage for the multiple values of this tree species. In fact, bigleaf maples in conventional forest management are often treated as a pest species and chemical treatments are sometimes used to eliminate them from mixed stands. It is known that the bigleaf maple has extensive environmental values and provides habitat for a multitude of different lichens, mosses and forest dependent species. Therefore, conserving bigleaf maple for sugarbush production promotes an increased level of environmental stewardship as it sustains the many values of this native deciduous tree species.

Looking to the future development of this cottage industry, exploratory work is being conducted into the valueadded potential of the bigleaf maple syrup by making connections with microbreweries in the Cowichan Valley and the Greater Victoria area. In consultation with brew masters, Deirdre will determine the suitability of the maple sap for making beer by assessing the optimal sugar content for a marketable product and its ability to ferment. Chris Gress, a brew master at the Craig Street Brew Pub, is interested in learning more about the viability of using bigleaf maple syrup for making beer and other regional microbreweries that may be interested in developing a unique local beer will be identified. This project will also outline the process of certifying the bigleaf maple syrup as an "Organic" food product and will determine its eligibility on the international "Slow Food" list. All of these steps are key to the sustainable growth and of this industry.

Deirdre has a Bachelor of Science from the Natural Resource Conservation program at the University of British Columbia. She is registered as a 'Forester In Training' with the Association of BC Professional Foresters and has been working in the forest industry on Vancouver Island for the past 5 years. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science through the University of Victoria with Dr. Dan Smith, head of the dendrochronology lab as her supervisor. Her graduate work is being cosupervised with Dr. Bill Wagner at the Pacific Forestry Centre. Dr. Wagner has extensive experience working with First Nations and on community based projects and will be actively consulting with Deirdre throughout the project.

In addition to her work experience and studies in Victoria, Deirdre has gained insights into the industry during a Pacific Forestry Centre / University of Victoria sponsored trip to Ontario last year. The visit provided a first-hand opportunity to see businesses in the wellestablished sugar maple tapping industry and meet with scientists who are actively involved with the maple syrup production industry in Ontario.

In addition to assistance from Lawrence Lampson (Glenora Farms), Chris Law of Sproat Lake Forestry Services Ltd is also providing support for this project. Sproat Lake, a forestry contracting company based in the Alberni Valley, is interested in the development of innovative forestry practices on Vancouver Island. It is also hoped that, through fostering greater awareness of bigleaf maple tapping potential, new agreements will be made to facilitate tapping with a variety of other landowners includeing First Nations, BC Timber Sales and private forest landowners.

This project shows that innovation and agroforestry can help to diversify forest-dependent communities. Working in partnership with a wide range of groups and by increasing awareness and promoting the benefits of forest farming through them it is hoped the compatible management of multiple forest values will increase to the benefit of all. It's also Deirdre's desire that by empowering locals to be directly involved in the research, growth and participation in bigleaf maple tapping will continue well beyond the research project.

For more information on this project or to become involved in the research, please contact:
Deirdre Bruce:

Return to Local Food & Garden

West Coast Maple Syrup (2009)

Return to Local Food & Garden

What is Hydrosol?
The distillation of plant products produces essential oil and hydrosol. Hydrosol is the distilled plant waters or "water solution" from the steam distillation process. A common example is rose water or orange water. In an average distillation of one acre of lavender, you may produce 10 litres of essential oil and up to 40 Litres of lavender hydrosol.

What is hydrosol used for?
The hydrosol contains all of the water soluble components from the plant material, so they are therapeutic and often used in compresses, soaks, and can be taken internally once they have been diluted in water. Professional aromatherapists in Canada do not have the authority to prescribe essential oils for internal use - so the hydrosols are the only internal 'aromatherapy' application that is used.

How is hydrosol used?
Many aromatherapists have herbal training, with a more plant based focus, so they can utilize many different forms of the plant and choose the medium that is the best fit for the client such as external application of essential oil or hydrosol, internal use of hydrosol, internal use of herbal tea, or internal use of herbal extracts.

Hydrosols also have an energetic aspect to them and can be used similarly to homeopathy; hydrosols in dilution work best with animal clients, as they are more gentle, subtle and because they are water soluble, the hydrosols will not affect the animal's liver. For example, there have been reported cases where cats have become gravely ill or even died due to toxic build up in the liver from essential oils such as tea tree.

What are the precautions to using essential oils or hydrosols?
It is always best to check with a qualified aromatherapist prior to using essential oils on babies, the elderly, pregnant women and animals; essential oils are highly concentrated and require dilutions of 1% - 3% in external applications. Hydrosols are much safer to use for the general public. In fact, hydrosols of peppermint, spearmint, wildrose, red current, tamarack etc. can be used as flavourings in cooking.

Article provided by: Holly Caine

Return to Local Food & Garden