as spring begins to stretch her fingers and withdraw from winters cold and snowy embrace, one of my favorite blessings that occurs. . .is sap. as trees begin to awaken from their wintry slumber, a sweet and watery liquid begins to traverse from the trees roots to its leaves, bringing water and minerals throughout the tree. birch sap contains amino acids, enzymes, proteins and sugars, which is food for the tree in its times of substantial growth, such as leaf production.
the birch tree is known in celtic mythology as ‘the lady of the woods’. she symbolizes new beginnings, protection and renewal. birch were some of the first trees to return to the glacier leveled landscape after the ice age, and are some of the oldest known trees to exist on earth. birch has had many, many uses through the eras, for it’s wood (which is hard, light in color, and versatile), for its bark (which is wonderful tinder, paper in a bind, used for tanning leather, made into birch bark canoes, and many other things), and as well known for its medicinal uses. it is said that the traditional broom of witches was made from twigs of birch. this was a tree heralded to bring courage, maternal protection from mother earth, and new life and love.
“The first leaves on the birch tree herald the rebirth of creation and the dawn of spring. Where man has raped the land and then left it abandoned and barren, birch will come carried by the gour winds to bring back harmony and balance. It has a deep and long relationship with humans giving its sap for sweetness, wine, and vinegar, its bark for writing and containers and its oil for tanning hides. Birch wood has provided cradles, boats and roofs protecting and transporting humans for millennia.”
— Peter Pracownik and Andy Baggott
birch sap is a refreshing tonic that can easily be tapped and collected (in a manner similar to tapping maple trees). birch sap yields about 80:1 sap to syrup ratios, while maple is around 40:1. hence, birch sap has not been as desirable for commercial use due to its smaller yield, however, that doesn’t mean its medicine is not worth experiencing. the sap makes a watery but slightly sweet tonic that is a gentle spring detoxifier.
as spring is waking up, our bodies can also be in a state of sluggish health, needing a bit of a spring kick. nature provides many different plants to aid in the transition of the seasons. birch sap is a gentle medicine that will not stress your body out, as other heralded ‘detox’ plants or herbs. it is an effective but subtle medicine that has been used for centuries by native americans and people across russia and scandinavia, it is not just a fad.
drinking birch sap can be helpful for complaints of the urinary system, bladder, kidneys, etc. and is said to help with conditions of gout, rheumatism, arthritis, kidney or bladder stones, swelling, fluid retention, bronchitis, headaches, wound healing and skin problems. the sap is a restorative tonic that aids the kidneys and liver to move toxins, uric acid and excess water out of your body.
the sap is considered a rich source for magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, vitamin b and c, and thiamine. in todays world, our agricultural soils are often depleted, and the vegetables that we count on to supply us with many of these nutrient, minerals and vitamins, are vacant or extremely low in them. the sweetness in birch sap comes from xylitol, a natural sweetener found only in birch that is interestingly enough being studied for preventing cavities.
birch trees are hardy and found growing throughout the northern hemisphere. birch helps to purify the blood, it can grow in polluted or toxic areas, and actually is shown to help clean the soil around it. all parts of the birch tree can be used for medicine. in general, the medicinal actions of birch range from an astringent (an infusion of birch leaves or twigs can be used to help tone the skin, and for inflammation), diuretic (increases urinary output, can be helpful for UTI’s), anthelmintic (aids in expelling parasites), diaphoretic (help your body sweat out toxins), and many more.
you can tap any kind of birch tree. we tend to tap either yellow or paper birch. each kind of birch (or even each tree!) will have slightly different sap and flows. it is a simple process to tap a tree, easy to research or ask local maple tappers about. when done properly, you are taking only a small amount of sap from the tree, and not harming or injuring it. here is a simple and easy guide to tapping trees: