The birch trees grow in temperate forests of the North. It is an official national tree of both Finland and Sweden and an informal national symbol of Russia. It is also the most common tree growing in Norway. There are many different kinds of birch: white or paper, river, silver, weeping, yellow, Himalayan, cherry and swamp birch, etc…
The birch sometimes is called a pioneer of the forest, as her seeds are distributed easily with the wind, and they sprout quickly in open areas where not many things can grow yet. Later on the forest switches to birch-fir, birch-pine, etc…with the whole forest restoration cycle of a hundred years or more.
Tree of four deeds
In Russia birch is called a tree of four deeds. The first one is to light the world – as firewood and when thin pieces of birch wood are used in place of candles. The second one is to take care of screams – birch tar was used to oil the screeching wagon wheels, and the birch leaf tea was given to crying babies with colic. The third deed is to heal people, and a forth is to provide the cleanliness. In Russian sauna called banya it is popular to use soaked in warm water birch branch bundles for warm and cleansing massage.
Benefits of the nutritious birch sap
As weather thaws in the spring, the trees start to soak up all the sap from the unfreezing ground, and it is the best time to taste the birch tears, “berezovitcha” or sap. We all know about maple sap and syrup, but not much about the birch. It is harvested in the same manner, although it is less sweet. In Alaska it is made into a clear syrup. You can hear the sap running if you put your ear to the trunk, it sounds like a distant ocean. You can just drink the fresh sap that does not store well unless you can it. It is full of vital nutrients, sugars (mostly xylitol), proteins, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. It possesses anti-inflammatory, astringent, laxative and diuretic properties, gently detoxifying two major body filtering systems: liver and kidneys.
This birch sap is living water with only 18 calories per 3.5 oz, that restores our bodies and cleanses the liver that has to process toxins like alcohol, saturated fats, triglycerides, food coloring, additives, pesticides, processed foods, preservatives. It cleanses the kidneys that filter and eliminate excess salt, uric acid, phosphates, certain medications, urea and ammonia. As the result then it is easier for the body to get rid of cellulitis and extra weight. The sap has potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorous, iron and sodium. It contains vitamin C, B group complex, betulinic acid that gives its anti-inflammatory properties and helps with arthritis, gout, high cholesterol, heart and kidney edema and urinary tract infections. The birch aids in digestion, strengthens bones and hair roots, boosting overall immunity. No wonder the Russian word for birch is bereza that translates as “to takes care of” or “to protect”.
Birch carbonated drink, or kvas
When I was growing up in Russia we would go to the vegetable store and drink birch sap at a water counter. A glass gallon jars of sap were available for purchase as well. We would also tap birch in the spring. It is possible to make a lightly fermented beverage “kvas” that stores well for several months. Just fill empty bottles with fresh sap, add a teaspoon of honey and a few raisins to each 1/2 quart of liquid. Close the bottle. In a few days you will get nice, slightly sour naturally carbonated refreshing drink. Store in the cold for several months. You can also add dried apples, mint, and roasted whole grain barley to the birch sap and get the same result.
Activated charcoal and tar
Birch is used for making activated charcoal, that detoxifies well. That black slurry they give people at the ER for stomach poisoning is made with this medicinal charcoal.
Birch tar made with smoking the bark is highly antiseptic and people in Siberia rub themselves with it as protection from countless mosquitoes. People have used birch bark for making shoes, baskets, canoes, food grade containers, skis, paper and so forth.
The medicinal fungi called chaga grows on the birch and is full of antioxidants and tannins. I love drinking black smooth chaga tea.
When the buds are opening, you can harvest them for tea. As well as fresh leaves. They are as good in nutrients as the sap and are very high in zinc.
Say no to sweat with zinc
This story is from my student years in St. Petersburg, Russia. I would walk in my shoes or boots all day, and my feet would sweat. Then I read somewhere that birch leaves could help. So in the spring I went to a nearby park and collected fresh leaves. I was to wrap my feet in leaves morning and night, and put socks over them. I did it for two weeks. It required some patience and walking in socks listening to a crinkling of drying up leaves, it was unusual and fun. No more sweaty feet for ten years! Later on I realized that zinc in the leaves helped me. Therefore, if you sweat a lot, you might be deficient in zinc, so drink some birch leaf tea to replenish your body. It is a very pleasant tasting tea. Zinc is also a great friend of your immune system. As long as you are by the tree collect some buds/leaves for a tincture. Leaves are good all summer long until they start turning yellow. Just fill a glass jar with them and pour vodka over it. Let it sit in the dark for three weeks. Take it as drops, and apply it to cuts, scrapes and problem skin.
The birch is kind, compassionate and soft tree. If you feel depressed and overworked find one near you and sit under it, or give it a nice long hug. It will happily restore and energize you from inside and out.
Let’s connect deeper to the nature around us and appreciate its amazing powers, that are quietly available to us each and every moment. We just need to stop and notice.