- Jul 9, 2012
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A tree prized in ancient times, the birch tree offers a wealth of benefits to the modern gardener or collector, from syrup to tea and more!
In Celtic mythology, the birch was considered the tree of beginnings and was often seen as a symbol of renewal and purification. Interestingly, the tree is a pioneer tree species and one of the first saplings to establish itself in an area recently cleared by fire.
Certainly, the Celts observed the birch's propensity to thrive in such environments. This persistent behavior undoubtedly helped shape their ideas about this tree.
Birches are deciduous hardwood trees, with more than 60 identified species distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. And the trees offer a wide range of uses, including as timber, for papermaking, the production of medicines, and as ornamentals.
Many species are short-lived, but still a welcome addition to the landscape. From syrup to birch leaf tea, these ornamental trees offer both beauty and functionality to those who grow or harvest them.
In the KitchenYou can consume many parts of the birch tree, finding some parts more palatable than others. Harvest the young leaves to eat fresh or steamed. The same goes for the small twigs - though you may need to cook them a little longer.
Native foragers have long used the inner bark to make a non-rising flour. The flavor is reminiscent of winter greens. And sweet birch, Betula lenta, is considered the most flavorful.
Similar to sugar maple, birch can be tapped in spring to collect sap. This sap is rich in micronutrients and can be enjoyed pure or boiled down into syrup. Due to the low sugar content of birch sap, it takes about 100 gallons of birch sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup.
Compare this to maple's 40:1 production ratio, and you'll understand why birch syrup fetches such a high price on the market.
In the ApothecaryBirch offers a wide range of uses and benefits for making herbal medicines. The tree has long been used for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent properties.
Boil the young leaves in water to make a potent mouthwash that prevents gum disease and bad breath. You can also use the same decoction as a facewash to soothe irritated skin and acne problems.
Twigs steeped in 100-proof vodka make a tincture to relieve sore muscles and fatigue. This anti-inflammatory effect is due in part to the methyl salicylates found in the wood. These same compounds give birch its familiar wintergreen flavor.
Growing BirchBirch trees grow in the temperate and boreal climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Normally, these trees do not live long, but the life span varies from one species to another. The yellow birch, B. alleghaniensis, can live well over 100 years. In contrast, the white birch, B. papyrafera, can live only 40 to 50 years.
In general, these trees are fairly easy to grow. They prefer full sun, but also like moist, cool soil. Try planting them on the east or north side of your property for afternoon shade. Birch trees are thirsty trees that need to be well watered to thrive. Consider using wood chips or leaf compost as a mulch around the base of the trees to help retain soil moisture.
With their striking appearance, birch trees make excellent focal points in your garden design. You can also use them to create a fascinating visual effect along walkways or garden paths.
So, do you have birch trees in your garden?