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Those pesky maple copters? They’re nutritious and (I think) gluten-free

From on high, a locavore’s delight. Twirling down, and filled with goodness. And (I think) gluten-free.

You may look at all those helicopter-like maple seeds floating down and think, “Rats! Time to clean the gutters.”

Tom Houlihan

I am thinking Samara Hummus and Midwest Edamame. Toasted maple seeds added to salads. Little nuggets from the sky that can be boiled and added to mashed potatoes.

I am getting ready to go to the curb and shovel a couple thousand of them into a wheelbarrow and prepare maple seeds for family feasts. After all, Thanksgiving is only six months away.

But, as usual, I am getting ahead of myself.

This probably started last weekend. We were walking on the Vollmer Road bike trail and the wind was, as they say, gusting mightily, probably as much as 20 mph. We were hit in the face, simultaneously, by flying maple seeds. Patty took one in the forehead, enough to elicit an “Ouch!” Mine got me in the nose – I, of course, like to do my tough guy thing and did not react. But I felt it.

Back home, I watched the multitudes of seeds whirling around and wondered: do these things have a food value? They are certainly the seeds of a plant. But why are they seen as potential compost or yard waste and not, say, “maple berries?”

I was mostly thinking about the backyard critters, and especially the birds at our feeder. We spend $20 or $30 a month on bird seed and maybe, just maybe, this could be an alternative food source for the cardinals and the finches and the chickadees.

So I grabbed a handful of the maple helicopters and extracted the seeds. They are bean-sized and look like a smaller version of edamame.

I decided to experiment and removed 30 seeds from the pods. Half went onto our platform feeder and half on the ground. Three hours later, the seeds on the feeder were untouched but most on the ground were gone. From this preliminary investigation it might appear that the birds aren’t interested. Squirrels, however, might see them as a tasty treat.

I also did a taste test and can report that they don’t have much of a flavor. A little bitter but, for the most part, unmemorable. I also waited for a few minutes to determine if I had, in fact, poisoned myself. But I am here to tell the tale so that apparently did not happen.

Next I went online to determine if anyone else has tried to feed maple seeds to the backyard birds. I found was that, indeed, some folks believe the whirling copters are bringing us food. By us, I mean humans.

A website called eattheweeds.com had this to say about the winged seeds, or samaras:

To eat them you remove the wings and then parch, roast or boil them. Each winged helicopter pair produces two seeds. You can also eat them raw and should try one first. If it is bitter you can leach the seeds to reduce the bitterness. If they don’t taste good, take heart. Like acorns, they can vary tree to tree so try another one if they are not palatable.


I also found the abstract for a scholarly article that analyzed the nutritional value of several agricultural seeds – including apple, citrus, maple and pumpkin – and found that they all contained “essential amino acids.”

Another referred to “maple manna” and suggested that bark of the tree is also good eating. (Honest, I am not making any of this up.)

Truth to tell, I am not that much of a maple seed convert. I’d like to think I have better things to do than extract thousands of maple seeds from their pods.

On the other hand, there are some definite pluses in their favor. First and foremost, they are free. Second, they are right here. Talk about a carbon footprint that is absolutely zero. You can literally catch these little gems as they float past your window.

I think I need to have some important questions answered. Such as: Can you use them to make beer? How many maple berries would it take to construct an ersatz Thanksgiving turkey for my two vegetarian sons? Do they work in smoothies? Can I grind them into a low-carb, gluten-free flour?

One more thing. They really don’t taste any worse than edamame.

Bon appétit.

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