Making Syrup: Extracting Sap from a Box Elder

What You'll Need
Brace with 7/16 inch bit
Mallet or hammer
Hose sections
Collecting jars

Extracting sap from a box elder can provide what you need to make your own syrup, and it makes a tasty drink on its own. The following is a guide of what you need to extract sap from your box elder.

Step 1 – Choose the Right Time of Year

In box elders, sap runs at the end of the winter dormant period. Ideally, the temperature will be above freezing for part of the day and below freezing over-night. This is typically occurs in early March to mid April.

Step 2 – Select Your Tree(s)

When selecting which tree to tap, see if you can find signs of old tap holes. If you find one with several tap holes, it is a good sign that the tree will deliver a reasonable quantity of sap.

Step 3 – Tapping the Tree

Traditionally the trees were tapped using a transverse cut into the bark with a spout made of bone inserted at the bottom. The spout directed the flow of sap into a container fixed to the tree.

Step 4 – Modern Methods

Now you can tap your tree more precisely by using a spout. By inserting a spout into the tree, you also avoid the need for a transverse cut. These spouts, called ‘spiles,’ can be bought already assembled or you can make your own out of copper tubing. If you make your own spile, cut it to a length of 3 and 4 inches.

Step 5 – Drill the Hole

Using the brace and bit drill a hole inclined slightly upwards to a depth of about 2 inches. Because of the nature of the wood, the bit must be very sharp to give a clean entrance for the spile.

Step 6 – Tap the Spile into the Hole

Using the mallet or hammer tap the spile into the hole. It should have a firm and tight fit.

Step 7 – Attach a Hose Section

Attach a hose section to the spile using a jubilee clip if necessary and direct it into your collecting jar. Cover the collecting jar to keep dirt and insects out. You can use a cord to fasten your collection jar to the tree or simply rest it on the ground beneath the spile. The sap is watery in consistency and should start flowing quite readily.

Step 8 – Remove the Spile

Carefully remove the spile with the pliers when you have all the sap that you need. The hole will heal naturally but it will help if you have a sterile wooden plug with which to close it. This will also keep diseases and molds from getting into the vulnerable new growth of the tree.

Step 9 – Boiling the Sap

Boiling the sap down into syrup is a long task because it takes about 40 pints of sap to produce 1 pint of syrup. The temperature of the boiling sap should be kept below 107ºC to prevent a slightly ‘burnt’ flavor.

If you are going to store the sap you should be aware that it goes bad quite quickly and needs to be stored at a low temperature.