Beyond Maple Syrup: Tapping Black Walnut Trees

Tapping Black Walnut trees for syrup

As the days lengthen and the first signs of warmth, sun, and green grass creep into our lives, we’ve been undertaking a super-exciting project: tapping the black walnut trees on our property to make syrup.  Although sugar maples are the tree of choice for commercial sugaring due to their high ratio of sugar to water in their sap, many other types of trees can be tapped to make syrup, including silver and red maples, hickory, birch, box elder, and walnuts.

Having tasted the delicious, light, and refreshing sap of black walnut at our neighbor’s house last winter, we were eager to tap our own trees this year, and to experiment with making black walnut syrup.

First off, a few basics of tapping:

  • Trees should be at least 14″ in diameter
  • You will need: a drill, tapping spouts, buckets for collection, and a big pot in which to boil down the sap
  • Ideal tapping conditions are a combination of cold nights and warmer days.  For maple trees, daytime temperatures should be in the 40’s; our black walnuts have been flowing this week in daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees.

Here’s how it’s done:

using a drill to create a hole for the spile

First, we used a 5/16th drill bit to create a small hole for the spout.

hammer and spile

Gently hammer in the spout (we used this one from Leader Evaporator).

bucket to collect black walnut sap

Brian drilled holes in food-grade buckets to collect the sap.  collecting black walnut sap

We tapped 14 trees in total around the property, creating a sort of “sap line” that we walk each day.  That, in and of itself, is such a satisfying process, noticing the trees in our woods, hearing bird calls, walking together as a family, as the kids get to help collect and pour the sap.

sap collecting in bucket

Drip. drip. drip.

full container of black walnut sap

Almost full to the top!

Collect black wanut sap in a bucket

We pour each sap bucket into this larger 5 gallon food-grade bucket to bring it back home.

Drink sap fresh or boil

The sap itself is full of nutrients, cold, with just a hint of sweetness.  It is refreshingly light with a slight nutty flavor, and we will sometimes just drink it as is!

boiling down black walnut sap for syrup

Next, we boil the sap either on the stove top, or on our campfire ring.  This was about 9 quarts of sap, which boiled down to…

black walnut syrup

About 12 ounces of sweet black walnut syrup!

At first taste, black walnut syrup is intensely sweet, but has a certain nuttiness to it.  I enjoyed the flavor quite a bit, especially on top of French toast!  I would estimate that it took about 3 hours of continuous boiling to achieve the color and sweetness that we desired, and I would highly recommend boiling the sap out of doors, as it produced copious amounts of steam!

Look outside – do you have a few trees that you can tap?  Then do it!  Making your own syrup is cost saving, fun, and oh-so-delicious.

A few Syrup Making Resources:

Leader Evaporator (Syrup making supplies and information)

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  1. I never knew walnut trees can be tapped!

  2. I wouldn’t tap black walnuts. The wood is too valuable.

    • Teri Page says:

      We tapped most of the trees lower on the trunk, so we could still use most of the tree, but I agree, it is a consideration for those looking to harvest their walnut wood.

  3. How cool is that! I love that you use what you have to serve your family the best. We live in the deep south so no tree tapping for us, but I do love reading about others adventures in tree tapping.

  4. Cassandra says:

    have you tried using the Black walnut syrup in substitution for sugar in like oatmeal cookies or anything?

  5. Oh exciting! I am always eager to try new things that are a tad bit off the beaten path! We have lots of black walnut! Thanks for the article!!

  6. This is such a cool post! I just learned recently how much maple sap it takes to make maple syrup (now I finally understand the high prices!) I had no idea you could pull sap from other trees. I’m going to keep this in mind when I start house/land hunting. So cool!

  7. That’s awesome! We are trying a couple box elders for the first time this year…

    I am so curious about the black walnut syrup though- does it taste at all like black walnuts?!

    • Teri Page says:

      Yes, it definitely has a nutty and slightly earthy flavor, along with being very sweet. But it’s not at all unpleasant, just not maple tasting! Have fun with the box elders.

  8. I would love to try this! Is there a time limit on when it can be done? the snow is still too high to get to our trees!

    • Teri Page says:

      It depends on your weather. You will need a combination of cold nights and warm days, at least 40 degrees.

      • Hmm… We have had a couple of warm days just recently but tonight we are to get another 6 to 10 inches. I’m really going to look into this. Have you done anything with the walnuts? This will be our third summer here and I am going to learn what to do with them besides throw them in the wooded area! Thanks for the info. Love what I have seen of your site so far!

        • Teri Page says:

          We got some walnuts from our neighbor this year, and enjoyed eating them. We only collected a few of our own nuts to make black walnut ink.

  9. Okay, you have my attention!

    So: 14 trees. 9 quarts of sap. 12 ounces of syrup. Did I miss it… How long did it take to collect 9 quarts?


    • Teri Page says:

      That was just one day, Jared! Sap is flowing this week!

      • Wow. That is pretty great. How many days do you think you will be able to harvest? Working off of any particular rule of thumb, or do you just stop when the sap stops?

        • Teri Page says:

          Jared, it has been hard to find information that is specific to tapping black walnuts, so most of what I’m reading is referencing sugar maples. So what I’m reading is that the sap will stop flowing when the weather changes, and there is no longer the contrast between the cold nights and warm days.

    • Depending on the weather, on the flow of the sap, & a host of other variables, it can take a while for the sap to fill the buckets needed to make syrup.
      I know from experience, that it takes about 40 gallons of Sugar Maple Sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup….now weather the same holds true for Black Walnut Trees, I do not know for certain….I can only guess that it would be about the same…

      Regardless, this Black Walnut Syrup sounds oh so delicious!!!
      Ma’am, TY for posting this….I learned something new today!!

      May the Peace of our GOD almighty reign in your house forever.

      • Thanks for reading! The black walnut syrup has been quite delicious, and we still have two pints left for our winter enjoyment!

        Yes, it’s true that you can boil down most saps. I think it’s just a question of is it worth it? Some sap is just not as heavily concentrated with sugar, so you’d need to boil for quite a while!

        Still, in our area there are Box Elders, Maples, and Black Walnut which are all options.

  10. George Wages says:

    This is great. But I have lots of pecan trees. Will they make syrup?

    • Teri Page says:

      I have never heard of tapping pecan trees. I would suggest talking to your local extension service or forestry department, and see if they know the answer more definitively.

      • From a “survivalist” point of view, ANY tree sap that has a sweet taste to it can be harvested,,,,
        Like Mrs.Page says, I have never heard of tapping Pecan Trees….but then again, until today, I had never heard of tapping Black Walnut Trees either…

        All I can really say about tapping Pecan Trees is, try it. see if it can be done, find out what it tastes like, etc., & let us know….

        “Any day that goes by without learning something new, is a day wasted.”
        ~author unknown~

  11. Wow, Our son is getting 5 buckets, taps, covers and a book today in the mail for his 12th Birthday. I hope he enjoys doing this with Maple. Very interesting that you can use other sap trees.

  12. Just to mention though – the tree needs sealing back up after with a bung, or it will be left open to infection and literally `bleed` to death!

    • yes the trees need, or should be, sealed to keep out bad bacterium, bugs, etc.,
      but bleed to death? that’s a new one on me….
      I have never heard of a tree bleeding to death….
      not saying it can not happen, just saying I never heard of a tree doing that.

  13. Up north we tap Birch trees as well as maple. The Grand Hotel on Machinac island serves it along with maple has a cleaner taste.

  14. Fantastic post! This our 2nd season of tapping our maples, but never realized all of the others you could tap too.
    Thanks so much!

  15. They are a rarer tree around here but a few exist is Black Birch Trees , It is what “Birch Beer” is made from and the sap can be cooked down or fermented by adding some yeast. I got firewood logs one year with a few in the pile and when the sun hit it the sap would drip out of the logs. Great Article ! Thumbs Up !
    Regards !

    • Teri Page says:

      Thank you! I am so intrigued by the fermented birch beer. I wonder if we could do the same with the black walnut. Or lightly ferment it and make a soda…

      • Almost any liquid can be fermented….

        but the best way to gather that information would be to have a chat with someone from a brewery that does this for a living….or someone who does it at home & has many years experience…

        the internet would also be good for gathering info….

  16. We will be trying this next year. It looks wonderful

  17. We will be trying this next year. It looks wonderful

  18. We just boiled down 7-1/2 gallons of sap into a quart of the most delicious syrup we’ve ever tasted. Wish we’d known about this sooner. My husband discovered the sweet sap by accident as he was cutting down some black walnut saplings that were overtaking the garden and apple orchard. Already looking forward to the autumn sap flow the make more.

    • Teri Page says:

      Oh, so wonderful to hear this! Isn’t it amazing? We finally did one last boil and canned all of our syrup for the year. I think we got a little over a gallon of syrup from several weeks of collecting sap from 14 trees. It’s so good!

    • I have heard that Apple also makes some tasty syrup….
      how true that is, I really have no idea because Sugar Maples are al I have ever done….

  19. Daniel de Culla says:

    Blessed Be¡

  20. Am I miss calculating something, or is 12 ounces of syrup to 9 quarts of sap an amazing yield? According to my calculations that’s 1 to 24 syrup to sap ratio. I’ve heard typical ratio for sugar maple trees is about 1 to 40.

    • Yes, it’s true it is a great yield. And the only explanation I have is that we are amateur syrup makers, and as such, are not testing our syrup for any particular consistency or sugar levels. In other words, we probably could have continued to boil down our sap to make a thicker, more concentrated syrup and come up with a smaller quantity. But it tastes pretty darn amazing, and has kept admirably on our shelf!

      We are certainly going to be sugaring again this winter, and I will report the results!

      • Cool, I look forward to hearing about it! By the way, having an off-grid homestead is something I dream of doing. It’s inspirational to hear of other people who are doing that sucessfully. Thanks for your blog!

  21. So are you saying you tapped 14 trees, got 9 quarts of sap, boiled it down and got 12 ounces? We have a forest of walnut trees and they are very invasive… popping up every where and are very hard to just pull out of our gardens. We use them for fire wood, building things, and to make tincture. We would love to tap them this winter but we are trying to decide how many to tap. We use about 2 gallons maple syrup a year so if we could cut that in half by using walnut syrup that would be great. I would probably not boil it all the way down either.

    • Yes, that is right. And, just so you have the full picture, we did spend about a half hour each day collecting the sap, plus another few hours tending the fire and boiling it down (but that was all happening while we were working on other homestead projects). We have been using the Walnut syrup exclusively for the past 6 or so months and we have about 2 pints left. It was really worth the effort!

  22. steve hendon says:

    Any idea on a range of temps for “cold nights” and “warm days”? I’m in NC so we can have days that are down to 30 or so and then get up to 50. I am stoked about possibly making my own syrup! I know a lot of crazy stuff but have NEVER heard of this. Great post!

    • Teri Page says:

      Here’s what I have found as a general rule on the internet: Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing.

      There is a great book that I’m in the middle of reading and will be reviewing on my blog in the next few months: THe Sugarmaker’s Companion

      What I like about it is that it addresses trees other than maples!
      Good luck tapping! We’re just now finishing the last pint or two and it’s been a real treat to have our own homemade syrup.

  23. The walnuts around here that will produce at least an eight-foot-plus log that’s a minimum of 18″ diameter at breast height are valuable. Catfaces, side limbs, nail holes, etc. can make the log almost worthless. We have a few big $4000-plus veneer black walnuts that I wouldn’t want to ruin by tapping. I will definitely, however, try tapping the walnuts that we wouldn’t ruin for timber. Also, tapping hickories? Wow, if that’s practibale, we will certainly give that a try along with the maples. Knew about the boxelder and birch possibilities, but not all the other non-maples. Hey, wouldn’t it be something if cottonwoods yield sap with any measurable sugar %? Any cut in a Cottonwood, esp, in the spring, results in a veritable FLOOD of sap pouring out. Those 4-foot-diameter cottonwoods would keep a guy running emptying buckets all day. I ‘m sure somebody’s tried cottonwooesk, though, and doubt cottonwood sap has much if any sugar content.

    • Teri Page says:

      I think you’re wise to protect your very valuable trees. Our property was just logged of the really valuable black walnuts before we moved here. We’re tapping low to the ground so we could harvest if we needed to.

      I’ve since heard that hickory, while tappable, is not all that common to tap – most hickory syrups are apparently made from the bark! But I would love to try them this year. As for cottonwood, I’ve never read anything about making syrup from them. Probably because, like you said, the sugar content is not high enough.

  24. How many trees would you say you need? It has been in the 50s all week and one of my black walnuts I have been getting quite a bit of Sap from. My others are not producing as much less than a few ounces today. Would you think it’s the weather or other factors?

    • Teri Page says:

      It’s hard to say! We’ve had a VERY slow week in terms of sap. While the days are nice and warm, the nights have not been cold enough for “ideal sap conditions.” Last week we got about 4 gallons in a day from 22 trees; today we only got 1 gallon from the sap number of trees.

  25. We already tap our maple trees, and tomorrow I am buying more spouts so we can tap our black walnut trees this season! Do you know of any other types of trees which can be tapped?

    • Teri Page says:

      Yes – lots of varieties of maples, birch, walnut, and a few others such as Box Elder. That’s exciting that you’ll be tapping the Black Walnuts!

  26. Debbie Blick says:

    Wondering if you ever tapped English Walnut trees? We are trying that this year and I cannot find anything online about the ratio of sap to syrup etc. Any help you can provide I would be extremely grateful!

  27. Debbie Blick says:

    Not sure if my question posted, so I’m going to try again. Wondering about English Walnut trees. Have you ever tapped those and what is the ratio of sap to syrup? I cannot find anything online. Thanks for any help you can give.

    • Teri Page says:

      Hi Debbie –
      I have not tried to tap English Walnut, although I have read that it is a tappable tree. I would imagine that the flavor would be very similar to black walnut.


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