Tree Sap: Everything You Need to Know

Most people know about the sap in trees, but they don’t really understand what it is or what it does.

The sap is a vital part of the tree, and it serves many purposes. In this post, we will discuss everything you need to know about sap!

What is tree sap?

The sap is a sugary liquid that flows through the tree’s vascular system. It works to transport water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. So it is basically the tree’s blood if we are thinking of it in human terms.

The sap is composed of water, sugar, amino acids, minerals, and other organic compounds. It also contains other compounds, including hormones and enzymes that help the tree to grow and stay healthy.

mango tree sap
Mango tree sap

However, sap doesn’t only serve as a transportation system. It also helps the tree to heal wounds, provides protection from diseases and parasites, and helps the tree store energy.

Another major function of sap is to help the tree regulate its temperature. In the winter, the sap helps to keep the tree warm, and in the summer, it helps to keep the tree cool. So, the sap is essential for the tree to survive in both hot and cold climates.

There are two types of sap in terms of flow direction and ingredient composition. They are xylem sap and phloem sap. Both types of sap coexist in the tree, but they have different functions.

Xylem sap

Xylem sap is the sap that contains water and minerals. It flows from the roots to the leaves transporting water and nutrients.

Phloem sap

Phloem sap is the sap that contains sugar and other organic compounds. It flows from the leaves to the roots. The phloem sap helps to transport sugar and other organic compounds from the leaves to the roots.

You can watch this video to see a detailed explanation of how sap flows through a tree:

Now let’s talk about which mechanisms cause the sap to flow.

Living xylem cells carry the tree sap through the sapwood layer. The procedure generates carbon dioxide, which causes pressure to build up in the tree. Sap leaks from the tree if there are any wounds or holes in the bark, broken or pruned branches, or areas of bark loss.

Temperature also causes similar pressure within the tree system. When temperatures fall below freezing trees pull water up through their roots replenishing the tree sap.

This is why sugar maple trees are tapped in the spring when night temperatures drop below freezing but the days are warm enough for the sap to rise.

When temperatures rise, the tree’s internal pressure increases, forcing sap to leak from any holes in the tree. You can collect sap from the tree’s branches, cracks, and holes on the body using a tap or spout. The sap can then be collected in a bucket, container, or whatever you have on hand.

When temperatures drop below freezing at night, negative pressure builds up inside the tree. This creates a vacuum that prevents sap from draining from the tree. This suction force also draws water through the roots of the tree to replenish the sap.

This cycle repeats day after day until the tree’s sap storage is depleted or the temperature difference between night and day becomes too small to process to continue.

So the reasons that make sap flow are temperature fluctuations and the expansion and contraction of carbon dioxide gas in the sapwood.

According to scientists, the sap’s primary function is to deliver nutrients to new leaves as they grow. In turn, those leaves will produce more carbohydrates through photosynthesis, which will be used to produce more sap.

So, can we drill holes all around the tree and collect the sap that flows out? The answer is no.

drilling for sap

If you drill too many holes, or if you damage the tree’s bark, it can harm the tree. Also, if you collect too much sap, it can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to disease and pests.

You can tap a tree to collect its sap, but you should do it in a way that doesn’t damage the tree.

A small hole made in the tree’s bark is all you need to tap it. The sap will flow out of the hole and hopefully into a container.

birch sap

You should use a small tube or spout to direct the sap into your container. The tree will likely heal its wound on its own pretty quickly.

What are the uses of tree sap?

Sap can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be made into syrup, candy, sugar, beer, wine, and even soap! Now, let’s take a closer look at some of these uses.

Making syrup

One of the most popular uses for tree sap is to make syrup. Sap from the sugar maple tree is often used to make syrup. To do this, the sap is collected and then boiled down to concentrate the sugars.

maple syrup small plant

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup! The boiling process takes about eight hours. If you want to learn how is made, you can check out this post.

Making candy

Another popular use for tree sap is to make candy. Sap from the birch tree is often used to make candy.

maple taffy on stick
Maple taffy on a stick

The sap is collected and then boiled down to concentrate the sugars. However, it takes a lot of sap to make candy because the sap is only about 2.5% sugar.

Making Beer & Wine

Anything with sugar can be turned into alcohol, and tree sap is no exception. Sap from the birch tree is sometimes used to make beer and wine.

The sap is collected and then boiled down to concentrate the sugars. Once the sap is boiled down, it is fermented with yeast to turn the sugars into alcohol.

maple beer

Depending on the type of drink to make, the sap will need to go through different processes.

For example, to make birch beer, the sap is boiled down and then fermented with yeast. However, to make birch wine, the sap is boiled down and then fermented with yeast and fruit.

Making Soap

Sap can also be used to make soap through a process known as saponification.

natural soap from sap

Saponification is the process of turning fat into soap by mixing it with either potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaOH), often known as lye.

To make soap, the sap is collected and then mixed with lye. The mixture is then boiled until it turns into soap. Once the soap is made, it can be used just like any other soap.

Lamp oil

Resin from the sap of trees can also be used as lamp oil. Because it is flammable, it can be used to fuel lamps. However, not all tree sap is suitable for this purpose.

Oil lamp

The best type of tree sap to use is from the pine tree because it has a high resin content.

Making Glue

Sap glue is referred to as “pitch glue.” American Indians utilized pitch glue created from natural resources to make tools and other waterproof objects. Pitch glue varies from normal glue in the market today because of its tar-like viscosity and extreme malleability.

hardened sap glue

While many tribes had their own formulas for manufacturing pitch glue, adding or deleting components to make it more or less fibrous, there is no single approach that will produce effective results.

Waterproofing Agent

Some tree sap can also be used as a waterproofing agent. This is because some tree sap contains substances that can repel water.

For example, the sap from the yew tree is often used as a waterproofing agent.

The sap is collected and then boiled down to concentrate the substances that repel water. The sap is then applied to the desired object, and it will act as a waterproofing agent.

Which trees produce sap that can be used as syrup?

There are many different types of trees that produce sap that can be used as syrup.

However, not all tree sap is suitable for this purpose. Some trees don’t produce enough sap, and some trees aren’t safe to tap to produce syrup.

For example, although it is possible to tap pine trees for sap, it is used more for making glue and turpentine rather than syrup. I haven’t heard of anyone making syrup from pine tree sap yet.

Some of the most popular trees for making syrup are:

  • Maple,
  • Birch,
  • Alder,
  • Nut trees,
  • Sycamore,
  • Linden,
  • Ironwood,
  • Hickory,
  • Elm trees,
  • Palm

If you’re going to attempt tapping new tree species, make sure it’s safe first. Also, make sure it isn’t a threatened species like butternut or elm. Use deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the winter.