A Guest Blog from Ellen Evert Hopman
Birch Tree (Betula spp.)
“Beneath you birch with silver bark
And boughs so pendulous and fair,
The brook falls scattered down the rock:
and all is mossy there.”
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“Beltane fires in Scotland were ritually made of birch and oak, and a birch tree was often used as a, sometimes living, maypole. As birch is one of the first trees to come into leaf it would be an obvious choice as representation of the emergence of spring. Deities associated with birch are mostly love and fertility goddesses, such as the northern European Frigga and Freya. Eostre (from whom we derive the word Easter), the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring was celebrated around and through the birch tree between the spring equinox and Beltane. According to the medieval herbalist Culpepper, the birch is ruled over by Venus – both the planet and the goddess. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow bear a healthy calf.” 1
In many cultures, but not all, Birch is considered a feminine tree sacred to the Earth Mother and other Goddesses. Meditate in a grove of Birches to form a mystical bond with female deity.
Birch is protective when placed in the cradle, in the coffin, or planted in the graveyard.
Make your own set of Runes
Birch is a traditional wood to make runes for divination. Enter a Birch wood during the Waxing Moon. Place your left hand on a Birch tree and ask her if you may cut a branch (or even better, go out after a storm and find a branch on the ground). If the tree says “yes” then leave her a gift and saw your branch.
Dry the wood slowly, sealing the ends of the branch with wax, to hold in moisture as long as possible. On the next Waxing Moon, cut your branch into small round sections, sand them, and then carve or paint a rune on each piece.
Here is the Elder Futhark, the oldest Runic alphabet from Scandinavia and other Germanic areas.
2 Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages, Runic alphabet https://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm
Birch sap wine was considered medicinal in Britain and Ireland and was taken to relieve rheumatism. 3
3 Allen, David E. and Gabrielle Hatfield, Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, P. 88
The sap is collected in the spring from mid-February to mid-March and I would suggest tapping a River Birch, Black Birch, Yellow Birch, or any Birch other than the White Birch, because the latter has no flavor.
A recipe for Birch sap wine from 1676:
“To every Gallon whereof, add a pound of refined Sugar, and boil it about a quarter or half an hour; then set it to cool, and add a very little Yeast to it, and it will ferment, and thereby purge itself from that little dross the Liquor and Sugar can yield: then put it in a Barrel, and add thereto a small proportion of Cinnamon and Mace bruised, about half an ounce of both to ten Gallons; then stop it very close, and about a month after bottle it; and in a few days you will have a most delicate brisk Wine of a flavor like unto Rhenish. Its Spirits are so volatile, that they are apt to break the Bottles, unless placed in a Refrigeratory, and when poured out, it gives a white head in the Glass. This Liquor is not of long duration, unless preserved very cool. Ale brewed of this Juice or Sap, is esteem’d very wholesome.” 4
4 Worlidge, John, Vinetum Britannicum: Ora Treatise of Cider and Other Wines and Drinks … Fruits Growing in this Kingdom … Propagating All Sorts of Vinous Fruit-trees … Making Metheglin and Birch-wine. The Second Impression. To which is Added, a Discourse Teaching the Best Way of Improving Bees, Thomas Dring, London, 1678, PP. 175-176
The inner bark of White Birch (Betula alba) has no flavor but it is loaded with gamma linoleic acid and useful in cancer treatments. The wintergreen flavor of the bark is found in Black Birch (Betula Lenta), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) and River Birch (Betula nigra) and other Birches with a yellow or brownish bark. Gather the inner bark in spring when the sap is flowing.
Birch bark tea is a great grease cutter and can even be used to clean your kitchen stove – I believe it probably will do the same for your blood when taken as a spring tonic.
Simmer the inner bark for 20 minutes and then steep Elderflowers (Sambucus spp.) in the brew for another 20 minutes, to make a spring tonic.
The inner bark of Birch is a mild sedative and very useful for insomnia.
Externally the bark tea is used as a soothing wash or bath for skin conditions and can be rubbed into the scalp to benefit thinning hair.
The spring-gathered leaves can also be made into a tea and rubbed into the scalp for thinning hair.
Cautions: avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding. Birch pollen could cause allergies in people who are sensitive to Wild Carrot, Mugwort, Apples, Soybeans, Hazelnuts, Peanuts and Celery. Birch leaves are high in sodium which could elevate blood pressure. 5
Method of Preparation
Leaf tea: steep 1 tsp. per ½ cup of freshly boiled water for 20 minutes
Bark tea: simmer 1 tbsp inner bark per ½ cup water for 20 minutes. Take ¼ cup, 4 times a day, not with meals.