Known as the Giving Tree, birch has benefited human societies for centuries with its numerous curative gifts. Its name comes from birka, an old German word indicating something that is white, bright or shiny—not unlike the tree’s bark. The branches of this tree decorate homes and churches in Eastern Europe during the annual feast of the Pentecost. Carrying the misleading nickname of Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ experimental airplane, Hercules—boasting the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history—was made almost entirely of birch, not spruce. In northern latitudes, birch pollen is the most important allergenic tree pollen, affecting 15-20% of hay fever sufferers.
What does it do?
Just as the sap of the maple tree is used to make pancake syrup, birch sap is collected and savored every year in Northern Europe, Russia and Northern China. Foragers can safely ingest the inner bark of this tree, with strips fashioned into birch noodles. When young and tender, the leaves also make a dependable emergency food, while birch leaf tea makes a very effective diuretic. The high level of betulin and various phytochemicals endows birch with great potency toward reducing inflammation while promoting joint and tissue health. Slowing the pace of hair loss is also a quality attributed to birch. The tree bark has been used for parchment paper for countless ages, and it can also be soaked and molded into a cast to secure broken arms.
About the herb
Considered one of the planet’s oldest tree species, birch has survived hundreds of thousands of years in the most severe climates. This has allowed the tree to evolve chemical protection for survival against bacteria, fungi and viruses. Betulin, lupeol and betulinic acid currently provide researchers with a potent base needed to manufacture medicines that reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, treat infections and stimulate the immune system.
Treat yourself to a bottle of berzu sula—the Latvian term for birch juice—rendered from the spring collection of birch sap. The clear, sweet, watery sap stimulates skin cell growth and delays cellular aging, often bringing the consumer the promise of a more youthful glow!