We live in an area where Paper Birch trees grow, in fact the neighboring yard has one of the most beautiful specimens that I have ever seen. It is a huge, three trunk tree.
Through the years wind torn paper bark peelings from the tree been made available to me for more than one craft project free for the taking. I have always liked the Paper Birch crafts one finds in gift shops in the Upper Mid-West in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Native Americans used the bark from this tree to fashion waterproof baskets and the famous Birch Bark canoe plus other useful objects. It wasn’t until I read Pat Armstrong’s Wild Plant Family Cookbook that I learned the tree could be tapped for sap to make syrup just like a Maple tree.
Collect 40 gallons of sap and boil it down to one gallon of syrup. This can be used like maple syrup, but it has a very different flavor, not-as-sweet, taste. Depending on the species of tree, it can be Wintergreen flavor (Betula lenta). The sugar in Birch is xylitol and it has been discovered to have anti-cavity effects in toothpastes and chewing gum. A home brewed Birch Beer can also be made from the syrup. This article explains how to do it.
Only two of the birches have a wintergreen flavor. Yellow Birch has only a slight wintergreen flavor ad Cherry Birch or Sweet Birch has a wonderful strong wintergreen flavor. The parts to use are the twigs and the inner bark. It is best to harvest the twigs, red inner bark, and the bark of larger roots in the late winter or early spring when they are full of sap. The inner bark can be dried at room temperature and stored in airtight containers or used fresh. For tea use fresh twigs, fresh inner bark, or dried inner bark.
Caron Wenzel is the owner of Blazing Star Inc. a native plant seed nursery and environmental consulting and education business. The web site is Blazing-Star.com.