Everyday Forage: Urban MIDWEST: Maple Flowers
Spring has sprung with exciting new beginnings! April in Ukrainian is called квітень or the month of flowers...one of which being: tree flower buds...Did you know that maple flower buds are edible? They add a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and crunch to dishes both savory and sweet while creating texture, color and curiosity for the eye. This blog post will explore some maple history alongside exciting Everyday Forage culinary recipes including; Maple Flower Sushi and Spring Maple Candy. I hope ya'll will will enjoy these spring treats as the season begins, while we deepen our relationship to place-based foods here in the Midwest.
Springtime is one of my favorite seasons. The energy of re-awakening the senses, smells, and taste of the year start to open up endless possibilities for growth and exploration. Over the winter months I have been taking a deep dive into culturally salient people-plant relationships, exploring many tree species in particular, through the European Descendant: Reconnect to the Land Series. While my own ancestral lineage is in Western Ukraine and Western Germany/ Hildesheim, there were many accounts across Europe of historic usage of various tree barks being used as a flour substitute. Having a severe allergy to gluten, this was one of the most exciting connections that I look forward to sharing with you soon. These winter explorations naturally led me to explore beyond tree sap to lesser used plant parts such as flower buds.
Living and foraging in urban spaces both in Chicago and now in metro-Detroit, and not having a consistent forested space to harvest from (yet), has creatively shifted my focus to exploring the opportunities there ARE within urban spaces to safely explore connecting with perennial plants. If you join one of my in-person forays this 2022 season, held both in Chicago and Detroit, or are interested in a pdf urban foraging chart, we'll explore this concept further. But for now, consider a tree to be your best filtration pump against lead and cadmium contaminated soils, demolished and abandoned homes, factories and car pieces, as well as any dog/cat who may have payed a visit. While I'm a huge proponent for place-based research, as every city ecosystem is unique, it is hopeful and encouraging to see the results of a 2014 study in Berlin, where urban fruits were tested for trace metal content within inner city trees and shrubs. The study concluded that:
"consumption of non-vegetable fruits growing in inner city sites in Berlin does not pose a risk on human health as long as the fruits are thoroughly washed" (Hoffin 2014).
If you'd like to read more about urban foraging safety, please visit the Urban Foraging 101 blog post....but on to maple flower buds.
Daily morning walks with my favorite foraging pal, Bennie, has brought us in connection with a slew of red maples planted within street medians and ornamentally alongside many suburban homes and complexes here in Warren, MI. Maples are typically tapped before the sweet and tangy birches, from early February to mid March, depending on the weather. This year, I've noticed this red maple's buds starting to emerge in early February... this feels a bit early, but keep in mind that the location of the tree to the home may determine its seemingly premature budding out. I've been learning to trust my observations as well as the rhythms of life as our collective climate and globe continues to shift. This maple knew what it was doing. While I may have been use to tapping in March, this was a gentle reminder to be present with the here and now and embrace change. I love how bright these female flower's petals (?) are just before the stalk formation. I'll be tracking them to witness their evolution and keep ya posted through my instagram handle: loveren_collections.
When harvesting tree buds, please do so mindfully and sparingly as these miraculous species choose to reproduce before the other plants start to awaken and then use their energy to strengthen and grow through their leaves. These female flowers will be the ones to produce fruit otherwise known as samaras aka helicopters later this season. By harvesting sparingly you're lengthening your own food source as samara seeds are equally delicious when prepared correctly! As a foraging rule of thumb, you never take the first or the last of any species and leave enough for the population to reproduce two-fold. I think there's a beauty to visiting a nearby maple year after year; tracking and witnessing its life and your relationship. Notice how much is possible to take from a particular species. How much is too much? What were the lasting impacts you had in this engagement? As any relationship, show up and learn to listen to the rhythms of nature based connections. Oftentimes this learning comes through your daily observations. I promise, plants have a special way of speaking, strengthen your muscle to listen, I promise you'll start to hear.
When tasting these red maple flowers on their own, they were mildly astringent with a slight sweetness and mild nutty flavor. I suspect that sugar maple, Acer saccharum, may have an even sweeter taste and I look forward to trying them! For now, I have the most access to Acer rubrum, red maple. If you have another maple variety available within metro Detroit and wouldn't mind another forager paying a visit and sharing some sap/syrup, please let me know :) These red maple flowers provided a pop of color within the maple flower sushi dish, but not a noticeable taste while eating together, but a pleasant crunch. Another point of exploration on my personal journey is finding some local fishermen to connect with here in metro-Detroit. I'd love to start finding the rhythm of the waters here in MI. From my understanding, right now is the season to be harvesting Michigan Spring Steelhead and salmon is in the fall. Resources to these local connections are welcomed:) * Note if you are vegan, check out Adriana's smoked salmon made from carrots...I'll be trying these out soon as well:)
If you're interested on more maple content, check out the Maple Sugar blog post where we explore historic relationships across various cultures and communities as well as making our our maple sugar and maple candies.
Acer rubrum: The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Trees & Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Online access; March 28, 2022.
Densmore, Frances. Strength of the Earth: The Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants. 1928. Reprint, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005
Hoffin, L., Säumel, I.2014. Orchards for edible cities: Cadmium and lead content in nuts, berries, pome and stone fruits harvested within the inner city neighbourhoods in Berlin, Germany. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. 101: 233-239.
Massachusetts Maple Producers Association: Maple History. Accessed March 28, 2022
Sang-Hun, C. 2009. In South Korea, Drinks Are on the Maple Tree. New York Times.