Keith Vincent Smith
In the cool northern parts of the United States, settlers copied the Native Americans, who tapped maple trees to collect the flowing liquid ‘sugar’ which we know as maple syrup.
In Australia the Palawa (Tasmanian Aborigines) used to bore holes through the bark of the cider or sugar gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) to tap its sugary sweet, honey-coloured sap which flows in spring. The liquid trickles down the trunk and is collected at the base of the tree.
If left to stand, wild yeasts cause fermentation and cider gum sap becomes alcoholic. According to Dr. John McPherson:
At Christmas time, in 1826, the Lake Arthur [Tasmania] blacks indulged in a great eucalyptus cider orgy.
Early European settlers cut holes in the tree trunk, large enough to hold one pint (600 ml). The cavity filled daily and if they drank the liquid straight away it tasted like a cordial, non-alcoholic cider. When stored in capped glass bottles, cider gum syrup ferments and naturally produces effervescence. This liquid tastes and smells just like alcoholic apple cider.
The sap attracts insects, marsupials and bees and large flocks of drunken parakeets are seen around the trees in good years.
The cider gum is a straight, beautiful evergreen tree, reaching 25 metres in height, with smooth grey-pink bark and rounded grey-green juvenile (young) leaves, which grows in high altitudes, up to 1100 metres, in the mountains of Tasmania and alpine places in south-eastern Australia.
Sadly, cider gums in Tasmania are dying because of damage by sheep, increasingly warmer temperatures and bushfood enthusiasts tapping the sap.
They grow slowly, but are cold, frost and snow hardy, even growing successfully in the northern hemisphere, for example at Kew Gardens (South London, UK) and at Wester Ross (Scotland).
The leaves are browsed by cattle and used for dyeing, producing red and brown colours. Flowers come in summer.
While visiting Ireland in April 1997, Irene and myself saw the flourishing Tasmanian cider gum planted in October 1987 by Hazel Hawke, wife of Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, at the restored garden at Powerscourt in Enniskerry, County Wicklow.
My earlier article on cider gum was published in Keith & Irene Smith,
Grow Your Own Bushfoods
a complete guide to planting, eating and harvesting
New Holland Publishers, Sydney, 2nd edition 2013 – still in print.
Our book gives details on growing and harvesting 140 edible Australian plants with an emphasis on their use by Aboriginal Australians.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2018