History of Hickory Syrup
The earliest record of man's use of the hickory species was recovered in strata dating from the Early Archaic. Move forward to 1539 when Hernando De Soto discovered the Native Americans had vast stores of hickory nut oil used both for cooking and medicine.
In 1612, European explorers found Indians making a drink called pokahichary, which was used in rituals. It was also noted for use for “gripes of the belly.” While the drink was fresh it had a pleasant taste but it would sour after 6 months. The use of hickory nut oil is mentioned in 1771 by Bossu, who also observed that the Indians baked pancakes in the oil. In 1792, William Bartram reported “ancient cultivated fields” of hickory found west of Augusta, Georgia.
Hickory bark is one of the highest plant sources of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for staying healthy and is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is a macro-mineral, which, unlike trace-minerals (e.g., iodine, copper, zinc, iron, etc.), is needed in large amounts by the body. Multiple health benefits of magnesium include transmission of nerve impulses, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
In addition to food uses, the Indians were known to make bows, baskets, and snowshoe rims. Native American tribes also used various hickories medicinally as cold remedies, dermatological aids, diuretics gastro-intestinal aids and the list goes on. During the Civil war the bark was used to make yellow, green and olive dyes, while the ashes were used to make lye for soap making.
Now about the syrup, we are not certain exactly when people started making syrup from hickory bark. The earliest record we found was from 1882. A man wanted to use a hickory extract to give syrup the flavor of maple, producing a syrup, which cannot be distinguished from genuine maple syrup. The high price of maple syrup, as well as its scarcity throughout the country rendered this improved syrup of great value since a good substitute for maple syrup was not produced, which came within the reach of all. In conclusion, since the late 1800’s and I am sure much earlier, people have been making syrup from Hickory and other trees using different methods.