Department of Environmental Protection

New Jersey Forest Service

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Big Tree Conservation

The Big and Heritage Program (BHT) is invited to several events each year and this is a perfect opportunity for us to teach children and adults the importance of the conservation of big and heritage trees. The highlight of our display is our big and heritage tree wheel where individuals can spin the wheel to receive a BHT question. If they answer correctly, they get a prize. The New Jersey Forest Service takes great pride in molding the minds of our future foresters, environmentalists, and scientists.

Another aspect of big and heritage tree conservation is growing, planting, maintaining, and protecting their progeny for future generations. By protecting big and heritage trees, we ensure that big trees will be a part of our lives for many years to come.

The primary goal of big tree conservation is to protect big trees throughout the state of New Jersey. Reasons for the conservation of big trees include their many benefits to the environment. A few primary benefits include their removal of carbon via the atmosphere and ground, the preservation of wildlife habitat, the prevention of erosion, and preservation of beauty for the enjoyment of future generations. The world's forests are responsible for recycling a great deal of the carbon dioxide released into the air by animals, metabolizing it, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. This cycle is integral to the survival of all life on earth. It may also influence global climate as some scientists believe that increased deforestation could contribute to global warming. Trees also filter out pollutants from our air, helping to preserve air quality and, therefore, our health.

Another important reason it is important to conserve big trees is that many medicines come from big trees found in New Jersey Forests and many trees provide an important source of food for humans as well. Here are a few for you to learn.

Sweet birch, Black birch, and Yellow birch:
All have a nice wintergreen flavor in their bark. Birch leaf or twig tea is a laxative and healing to the mouth. Chewing birch twigs was a method to relieve headache and pain. Birch leaves can also be used as anti-inflammatory.

Help to alleviate pain and stiffness.

Tannins in oak bark and leaves can help disinfect wounds.

Native peoples and pioneers dried and ground the inner bark into flour for bread. You can also cut the bark into strips and boil like noodles to add to soups and stews or simply eat it raw. In spring you can drink the tree’s sap directly from the tree or boil it down into slightly sweet syrup.

The linden (or basswood) is often a well-shaped tall tree, with grey fissured bark. The young leaves in spring are pleasant to eat raw or lightly cooked. The flowers are often made into a soothing, tasty tea.

The sugar maple is famous for the deliciously sweet syrup you can make from its sap. But, few are aware that many other species of the larger maple trees can also be tapped for an edible sap. Among these include: the black maple, whose sap tastes almost identical to that of the sugar maple; and the silver maple, also providing an equally sweet-flavored sap. The syrup you can make from other maples varies considerably in flavor and quality, but feel free to experiment. Native peoples and pioneers drank the fresh sap from maples in spring, as a refreshing drink.

The inner bark of maples can be eaten raw or cooked — another survival food source! Even the seeds and young leaves are edible. Native peoples hulled the larger seeds and then boiled them.

The mulberry, M. alba and M. rubra, are medium sized, fruit-bearing trees, with a short trunk and a rounded crown. The twigs, when tender in spring, are somewhat sweet, edible either raw or boiled.

All Juglans species can be tapped for sweet-tasting syrup, particularly black walnut and butternut.

The oaks are mentioned here, for it is not that well known that the acorns are edible. All corns are good to eat, though some are less sweet than others. Some, like red oak, Q. rubra, are bitter tasting, while others like white oak, Q. alba, sometimes have sweet nuts. The bur oak, Q. macrocarpa, often bears chestnut-like flavored acorns.

The Populus genus includes aspens and poplars. Their somewhat sweet, starchy inner bark is edible both raw and cooked. You can also cut this into strips and grind into flour as a carbohydrate source. Quaking aspen, P. tremuloides, catkins can also be eaten.

Sassafras tea (mainly from the young roots) is well known, and its pleasantly fragrant aroma is unmistakable. The young, green-barked, mucilaginous twigs of this small- to medium-sized tree, when chewed, are delicious to many. The green buds and young leaves are also delicious. Try them in salads! Soups and stews can be thickened and flavored with the dried leaves (but, remove the veins and hard portions first).

This medium-sized tree is well known for its many herbal medicine uses. The thick and fragrant inner bark is extremely sticky, but provides nourishment, either raw or boiled.

The inner bark of the willows can be scraped off and eaten raw, cooked in strips like spaghetti or dried and ground into flour. Young willow leaves are often too bitter but can be eaten in an emergency — it is a survival food!