How the Ojibwe Got Maple Syrup

Each Ojibwe tribe has their own unique story of how they came to get maple syrup.  Each story varies but all have the same theme running through them .  Here is one adapted from Robert E. Ritzenthaler and Pat Ritzenthaler, 1983, The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes, Prospect Heights IL: Waveland Press.tap

One day Winneboozhoo was standing under a maple tree.  Suddenly it began to rain maple syrup (not sap) right on top of him.  Winneboozhoo got a birch bark tray and held it out to catch the syrup.  He said to himself:

“This is too easy for the People to have the syrup just rain down like this.”

So he threw the syrup away and decided that before they could have the syrup, the People would have to give a feast, offer tobacco, speak to the manido and put out some birch bark trays.

sugarNokomis, the grandmother of Winneboozhoo, showed him how to insert a small piece of wood into each maple tree so the sap could run down into the vessels beneath.  When Winneboozhoo tested it, it was thick and sweet.  He told his grandmother it would never do to give the People the syrup without making them work for it.  He climbed to the top of one of the maples, scattered rain over all the trees, dissolving the sugar as it flowed into the birch bark vessels.

“Now we have to cut wood, make vessels, collect the sap and boil it for a long time. If we want the maple syrup, we have to work for it.”

Maple Glazed Salmon

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fats.  These fats help reduce blood clotting in the arteries and protects from hardening of the arteries.  Our bodies do not produce these fats so it is important we eat foods—like salmon and walnuts—that are good sources of them. 

Maple syrup in a food that is central to Ojibwe culture and food.  Because it was labor intensive to collect the sap and boil it down into syrup, it was often used sparingly as just a seasoning by Ojibwe ancestors.  In modern days, we know that maple syrup is high in natural sugars so using it sparingly – as Ojibwe ancestors  did – is still a wise idea.

INGREDIENTS Maple Salmon 500

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp garlic power or garlic salt
  • 1 pound salmon


  1. In a small bowl, mix maple syrup, soy sauce, minced garlic, garlic salt or powder and black pepper.
  2.  Place salmon in a shallow glass baking dish and coat with the maple syrup mixture.  Cover the dish and marinate salmon in the refrigerator, turning once.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake salmon uncovered for 20 minutes or until easily flaked with fork.

Per serving:  265 calories; 12.4 g (9.9 g are healthy fat); 14.1 g carbohydrate; 23.2 g protein.  Serves 4

Sugar Bush

For centuries, maple trees have been tapped for their sweet sap by the native woodland peoples.  Maple syrup was the main seasoning ingredient for the Ojibwe people. 20130502_sugar_bush_lg_5[1]

Maple syrup has been called “one of the world’s healthiest foods” (The World’s Healthiest Foods, Essential Guide to the Healthiest Way of Eating by George Mateljan).  A one quarter cup serving of maple syrup contains more calcium than the same amount of milk and more potassium than a banana.  Maple syrup is also a great source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron.

Maple-flavored syrup, on the other hand, is made up of mostly high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), preservatives and artificial flavorings.  HFCS is an added sugar.  That is, not a naturally occurring sugar.  Added sugars have been linked with many health concerns including type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

Maple syrup in small quantities provides an all natural sweetener.  Despite it’s high sugar content, pure maple syrup is a much healthier sweetener than refined white sugar or HFCS which have been stripped of all their natural nutrients in manufacturing.

Maple syrup does have high levels of natural sugar so it will raise blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes.  For that reason, maple sugar should be used in small amounts and only sparingly.thCAGQTBKU