Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
Cold hands run their fingers up and down the trunk of the tree searching for just the right place to make the cuts. The older man is talking to the tree as much as he is planning his next action. Once he’s found just the right spot he retrieves the stone axe from his belt. The polished Celt was hafted by making a shallow cut in the fork of a young tree and binding limbs together so that the handle grew to the perfect haft. The stone need not cut too deeply so he holds the head in place and instructs his grandson to tap firmly but gently on the back of the tool with a thick branch until they had a V shaped notch for the sap to flow into. A small chert point is twisted back and forth until a hole is drilled. A small piece of river cane is fitted to the hole. It’s split into two pieces that form a channel for the sap to flow through into a cone of birch bark that hangs on the tip of the tap. The grandfather then turns his attention to the small box elder saplings that are spread throughout the area. He carefully examined each one as he selected which ones to cut and which ones to keep. Nothing will go to waste. The inner bark of the saplings that were cut was collected for medicine. A pit was dug and small pieces of box elder were burned in the pit to make charcoal. Some of the charcoal would be set aside for tattoos and some for mixing with mud and bear fat to make a paint for camouflage. When the cones filled with sap they were emptied into a larger birch bark container and hot rocks were pulled from the fire pit and added to the sap until it was boiled down into a sweat syrup for making candy for his grandson.
Box elder is actually one of the maple trees. The scientific name is Acer Negundo and Acer is the maples. Acer is an old Celtic word for hard and for the maples we’re familiar with like sugar maples the wood can be very hard. But box elder doesn’t share that attribute. In fact the wood is very soft. I’ve been using box elder for small projects and the young twigs have a very soft and fairly large pith that’s pretty easy to remove making it useful as handles for small tools like my hand files and small knives. It carves pretty easy but can be stringy at times.
Where box elder comes into foraging is with the sap. Maple syrup can be made from maples other than sugar maple but you do need more sap and you need to evaporate it for a longer period of time in order to get the right concentration of sugar. I have sometimes wondered if anything could be done with the prolific seeds of box elder. The first problem is that they are extremely hard. Theoretically the small hard seeds could be made into a flour. The problem there is that while the sap is edible the seeds may contain a carcinogenic component that would only be concentrated in the flour. Now I have learned that the young leaves can either be powered, cooked like spinach or eaten raw. I might try some this spring.
The inner bark of a lot of trees is edible but box elder inner bark only has a history of medicinal value. Native Americans used it to treat respiratory issues, kidney infections swelling and paralysis. However, I haven’t yet uncovered the mechanism behind this use.
That’s it for tonight’s Forage Friday! Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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