Today I was out in the woods and found a hemlock which had been limbed during a windstorm. It was spewing sap. I used to eat plenty of conifer sap as a kid whenever I was climbing trees. As soon as I tasted it today I was struck by a powerful craving for it and mowed down. Now I'm wondering - obviously tree sap is medicinal for the tree - it acts as an anti-fungal and traps insects and all that. Could tree sap be medicinal for humans as well? Or was I just triggering some latent childhood memory which had me sap scraping for a good 15 minutes. Its obviously not harmful. I've been eating it since I weighed like 30 pounds and its never even given me a stomach ache. I've always found it somewhat invigorating actually.
Anyone know the skinny on conifer saps? Maybe someone with a chemistry background?
Sap is not a chemistry word. Real chemists use the word "terpenes". There are monoterpenes, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes, all based on isoprene -- C5H8 -- units linked together. When you distill conifer sap, you get an interesting assortment of various terpenes.
Since terpenes are hydrocarbons, they really aren't for human consumption. However, they are easy to oxidize molecules, and once oxidized, they become a little more digestible. Limonene, the oil in lemon rind that gives it that particular lemony smell is a terpene, but there is little of it in the juice, which is what we consider the edible part. At the lemon juice plant, they bottle the juice for human consumption and they put the limonene in grease cutting cleaners.