Foraged Fields

How High Does the Sycamore Grow?

April HolmanComment

I thought that the sycamore tree was something everyone knew. Like an old friend. A towering monster that took your breath away every time you happened upon one. But a friend of mine recently said she didn't know what they look like. I was shocked! I asked others if they knew what the Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) looked like. They had no idea either.

I realized just how little we all know about the world around us. Instead we are all busy burying our noses in our cell phones and televisions. This seemed to be the kindling that ignited the fire inside. I need to start spreading the word. These trees and plants that are around us are becoming unfamiliar and the knowledge of how we can use them is thrown to the side.

Sycamore Tree

This is a sycamore tree. They have yellow, brown and green mottled bark against a white background, with the white usually becoming predominant on the taller sections of the trees. The largest one in the US is 50 feet around! Needless to say they can get big. "How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down then you'll never know." That song will be stuck in my head the rest of the day. Maybe I feel an affinity for Pocahontas because she had long brown hair too but something about the message that that movie portrayed has always stuck with me.

Growing up I always saw this tree but never know how useful it could be. The sap can be used in place of water for cooking, drinking or making wine. It can be tapped and boiled like maple syrup but doesn't produce as much in the end. The inner bark is mildly astringent and can be used as a dressing for wounds or as a wash for skin or eye problems. The leaves can be used as a cooking wrap for foods and impart a sweet flavor. The wood can be used to make utensils, boxes for food storage or baskets. Green Deane from says, "Native Americans used Platanus occidentalis for a variety of medicinal purposes, including cold and cough remedies, as well as dietary, dermatological, gynecological, respiratory, and gastrointestinal aids." Who knew?

There are a few different kinds of sycamore and look alikes as well. Make sure you have the right tree. It will have maple like leaves with 3 to 5 lobes, and one single inedible seed pod. Getting to know this tree can help you if you are ever stranded anywhere without water. They also get big enough where they split and people have been known to reside inside them. Pre-made shelter, anyone?

Trees are so often overlooked for their edibility and uses these days. Share with me your stories of Old Sycamore!