Herb: Sugar Maple

Latin name: Acer saccharum

Synonyms: Acer saccharinum

Family: Aceraceae (Maple Family)

Medicinal use of Sugar Maple:

A tea made from the inner bark is a blood tonic, diuretic and expectorant. It has been used in the treatment of coughs, diarrhoea etc. A compound infusion of the bark has been used as drops in treating blindness. The sap has been used for treating sore eyes. The inner bark has been used as an expectorant and cough remedy. Maple syrup is used in cough syrups and is also said to be a liver tonic and kidney cleanser.

Description of the plant:


30 m
(98 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Found in a variety of soil types, doing best in deep rich well-drained soils from sea level to 1600 metres. Rich usually hilly woods.

Edible parts of Sugar Maple:

The sap contains quite a large proportion of sugar. This can be used as a refreshing drink, or be concentrated into a syrup by boiling off the water. The syrup is used as a sweetener on many foods. The sap can be harvested in late winter or early spring, the flow is best on a warm sunny day after a frost. Trees on southern slopes in sandy soils give the best yields. It is best to make a hole about 7cm deep and about 1.3 metres above the ground. Yields of 40 - 100 litres per tree can be obtained. The best sap production comes from cold-winter areas with continental climates. The sap contains 2 - 6% sugar, thus about 32 litres are required to make a litre of maple syrup. Self-sown seedlings, gathered in early spring, are eaten fresh or dried for later use. Seeds - cooked. The wings are removed and the seeds boiled then eaten hot. The seed is about 6mm long and is produced in small clusters. Inner bark - cooked. It is dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickening in soups etc or mixed with cereals when making bread.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves are packed around apples, rootcrops etc to help preserve them. Wood - close grained, tough, hard, heavy, strong, not very durable, it takes a high polish, remains smooth under abrasion and has a high shock-resistance. It holds nails well, is fair in gluing, dries easily and shrinks moderately. The wood weighs 43lb per cubic foot. Considered by many to be the most valuable hardwood tree in N. America, the sugar maple is used for a wide range of applications including furniture, flooring, turnery, musical instruments and ship building. Accidental forms with the grain curled and contorted, known as curly maple and bird's eye maple, are common and are highly prized in cabinet making. The wood is also a very good fuel, giving off a lot of heat and forming very hot embers. The ashes of the wood are rich in alkali and yield large quantities of potash.

Propagation of Sugar Maple:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it usually germinates in the following spring. A lot of the seed is non-viable, it is best to cut a few open to see if there is an embryo. An average of 95% germination can be achieved from viable seed. Pre-soak stored seed for 24 hours and then stratify for 2 - 4 months at 1 - 8C. It can be slow to germinate, sometimes taking two years. The seed can be harvested "green" (when it has fully developed but before it has dried and produced any germination inhibitors) and sown immediately. It should germinate in late winter. If the seed is harvested too soon it will produce very weak plants or no plants at all. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on until they are 20cm or more tall before planting them out in their permanent positions. Layering, which takes about 12 months, is successful with most species in this genus. Cuttings of young shoots in June or July. The cuttings should have 2 - 3 pairs of leaves, plus one pair of buds at the base. Remove a very thin slice of bark at the base of the cutting, rooting is improved if a rooting hormone is used. The rooted cuttings must show new growth during the summer before being potted up otherwise they are unlikely to survive the winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Found in a variety of soil types, doing best in deep rich well-drained soils from sea level to 1600 metres. Rich usually hilly woods.

Known hazards of Acer saccharum:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.