Manna is extracted by making incisions on the bark of the fraxinus angustifolio tree, known as - what else - manna trees, which causes a whitish resin to flow out, rather like rubber tree tapping,. This sap crystallizes and creates stalactite forms which are then dried before being sold. Manna is obtained exclusively in the towns of Castelbuono and Pollina with the period of incision and harvesting lasting from the first ten days of July to September. Climate also plays its part in defining the quality of the manna and there is a close relationship between the weather and the quantity produced.
Manna, from Sicily, not from Heaven
Often called Sicilian gold, manna is a product of the narrow-leaf ash tree, and is used in medicines, foods and cosmetics, and grows only in two places on the island of Sicily
“And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another
It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them,
This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.”
- Exodus 16:14-16
I live on an island where they make garlic beer and garlic ice-cream and visitors to my home area think these are very strange concoctions. But I found something in Sicily this year that is equally strange. Manna, yes the stuff that was mentioned in the Bible and that has led to the expression Manna from heaven.
Harvesting Manna in Traditional Manner
Castelbueno Live (Google Pages)
Harvesting Manna in Traditional Manner
A few young men still follow the traditional way of doing things but as few of them have the knowledge to determine when exactly to make the first incision, it is mostly left to the older generation to harvest the sap. Only they seem to know how to increase the yield by splicing slits in the bark to create more stalactites than occur naturally.
Monitoring the crop and protecting it from the elements is essential as If it rains or gets too humid, the manna just dissolves. If it survives however, it is broken up into sticks and then sold on to shops. Although it tastes like something between honey and maple syrup, it is a little less sweet than either of them and has a very distinctive flavour and texture as it melts in your mouth. Often compared to maple syrup, the comparison is not inappropriate although the composition of manna differs considerably from that popular Canadian product.
Manna is sold in small rods cut from the long dripping lengths of the hardened sap.
Composition of Manna
Uses for - medicinal and cosmetic
Manna is about 45% mannitol, a type of sugar that is absorbed very slowly and only contains about 3% glucose, which makes it very useful in the manufacture of medicines for diabetics. Manna has medicinal properties as well and items made from the sap are sold in many of the villages. It is an intestinal regulator, a digestive, a light laxative, it soothes a cough, it decongests the liver and it is rich in mineral salts. Nowadays it is used in pastry making and in cosmetics (soaps, creams etc.) and although its taste is sweet it can be used by diabetics as it doesn’t modify glycaemia.
Where to buy Manna
The shops in Castelbuono in the Madonie National Park in Sicily (near Cefalu) are full of Manna products and although the sales pitch is quite casual and laid back, a number of ludicrously extravagant claims have been made for the magical properties of Manna and I suspect there are a few snake-oil salemen around. I was told by various vendors that their products would cure all allergies and even cure liver disease. As for what it would do for the sex lives of both male and female, well, I’m surprised they have any stock left.
And just like the Isle of Wight in the UK with its garlic ice-cream, if you go to Castelbuno, you can eat manna ice cream, too. I don’t think they have Mann Beer though – they haven’t thought of it yet!