In Chippewa, Wi’gwass’tig.


Thunderbirds on White birch – Betula papyrifera

White Birch is sometimes called Paper Birch or Canoe Birch after two of its many utilizations. Are you curious How the Birch Tree Got It’s Burns? Click that link for the Ojibwe legend. Then the caption on the photo to the left will make sense.

Edible Uses

The twigs and leaves make for tea with a subtle wintergreen flavor (yellow and black birches have a stronger wintergreen taste).

White birch can be tapped like maple, and the sap is about half as sweet as maple. It can be boiled down to a syrup or even fermented into a craft beer or vinegar.

The edible catkins (they have a bitter, piney taste) can be used as a leavening agent.

Chaga and birch (polypore) bracket both grow on white birch and they have edible, medical and other uses of their own. I noticed one of the guys on Life Below Zero harvesting birch bracket to burn to repel mosquitoes – I’ll have to try that!

The sap is rich in Vitamin C!

Medicinal Uses

White Birch is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Skeletal
  • Urinary

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Cooling, Diaphoretic, and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes boiled inner bark for a skin poultice, sometimes including the leaves.

Alternative Uses

Inner bark makes a brownish red dye.

There are countless items traditionally made with white birch, so I scoured YouTube for interesting videos of a few of the most common:


Building a Birch Bark Canoe and Preserving the Ojibwe Language
https://youtu.be/YrrwCj1CdJ4
Ojibwe Birchbark Wigwam – trailer
https://youtu.be/dpohZobnjzU
Denise Lajimodiere Birch Bark Biting
https://youtu.be/8WhTW8wUwrA
Nagaajiwanaang – Jim Northrup shares his art of birch bark basket making
https://youtu.be/HlBuE8CcM_w

Not only do humans have countless uses for white birch, its wild allies include mammals like eastern cottontail, snowshoe hare, eastern chipmunk, red squirrel, beaver, porcupine, white-tailed deer, and moose. Its feathered friends include ruffled grouse, yellow-bellied sapsucker, purple finch, common redpoll; and black-capped chickadee and warblers feed on invasive birch leaf minor larvae.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bine.jpg
Bine/Ruffed Grouse, wishing I was a white birch

Growing

If you collect a catkin just before it falls, in late summer, and overwinter the seed in your fridge, you can grow a birch tree from seed yourself. Here’s a WikiHow on the process.

Warnings

Diuretic.

Birch water stains.

Tearing the bark off can kill the tree. Please do not cut bark from living trees.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

REFERENCES

Trees of Ontario

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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