Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Better than maple sugar: sugar pine sugar (nanómba)

Sugar cone pine (Pinus lambertiana)
Sugar cone pine with sugar pine cones in Sugar Pine Point State Park at Lake Tahoe, California
John Muir (1838-1914) called the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) the noblest pine, “surpassing all others not merely in size but also in kingly beauty and majesty” [1]. Seeds, needles and resin of sugar pine trees have been and still are used for medicinal and culinary purposes [2]: the turpentine obtained from the resin is antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and vermifuge. Nuts can be pulverized into nut butter. Muir mentioned the laxative properties of sugar pine products and compared the resin with the sap obtained from maple trees [1]:
The sugar, from which the common name [of the tree] is derived, is to my taste the best of sweets— better than maple sugar.  It excludes from the heart-wood, where wounds have been made, either by forest fires, or the ax, in the shape of irregular, crisp, candy-like kernels, which are crowded together in masses of considerable size, like clusters of resin-beads. When fresh, it is perfectly white and delicious, but, because most of the wounds on which it is found have been made by fire, the exuding sap is stained on the charred surface, and the hardened sugar becomes brown.
John Muir, 1894.

According to Muir, Native Americans were fond of the sugar pine sugar. The Washoe people of eastern California, Nevada and the Great Basin had their own word for it: nanómba [3]. Sweet!

Keywords: conifers, Pinaceae, resin, tree syrup, natural history, linguistics, Sierra Nevada.

References and more to explore
[1] John Muir: The Mountains of California. The Century Company, New York, 1894. Note: see pages 108 to 115  in the Penguin Classics Book print of 1985 with an introduction by Edward Hoagland.
[2] Medicinal herbs: Sugar pine, Pinus lambertiana [www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/p/pinus-lambertiana=sugar-pine.php].
[3] The Washoe Project: nanómba [washo.uchicago.edu/dictionary/results.php?AttestationID=885&SearchBy=PhonemicIndex&SearchKey=n].

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