Yellow Birch – Betula Alleghaniensis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Wintergreen Tree of Wild Plants

Table of Contents

In Ojibwe, wiinizik, yellow birch has a lot in common with other birches, but along with black/sweet birch (which isn’t in Haliburton) yellow birch has a subtle wintergreen scent and taste, making it one of a handful of wintergreen-y edible and medicinal plants around Haliburton.

Yellow birch is common around Haliburton in tall mixed woods. I notice it most along wooded sideroads. It does stand out:

Yellow Birch - Betula Alleghaniensis
Yellow Birch – Betula Alleghaniensis

It also likes the edges of swamps. It’s usually more common than other birches. While I haven’t done a true count, that seems to be the case here too.

Edible Uses of Yellow Birch

Like sugar maple and white birch, yellow birch can be tapped in the spring (generally 3-4 weeks after sugar maple season) for plentiful sap. The sap can be mixed with sugar and honey for fermenting into a beer or vinegar. If boiled into a syrup, the wintergreen constituent will evaporate in the process.

Birch bud tips, twigs, catkins, leaves and inner bark can all be used to make a tea with a subtle wintergreen taste, for an occasional treat. They can also be used in cooking and baking to infuse a hint of wintergreen. You can easily sample this wintergreen when you break a twig, if you can reach a twig. Some folks like to chew and suck on the twigs as a trailside treat. Sweet/black birch has stronger flavoring, but it doesn’t grow this far north in Canada.

Same as many trees, the inner bark can be made into a flour.

Medicinal Uses of Yellow Birch

Yellow birch is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

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

Common usage includes inner bark tea steeped for indigestion and stomach cramps.

Birch’s betulinic acid (BA) continues to be studied for anticancer effects, especially in regard to skin cancer.

The essential oil in yellow birch that’s distilled from the twigs or bark, oil of wintergreen, is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It’s used for rheumatism and other pain related conditions. But a richer source is American wintergreen, which we’ll cover in more detail around Christmas. And that’s the main reason I didn’t add tags in this regard. Oil of wintergreen is a use with caution substance – large doses are toxic, and concentrated doses can be fatal. This warning includes external application as well.

Yellow Birch - Betula Alleghaniensis
Yellow Birch – Betula Alleghaniensis

Alternative Uses of Golden Birch

Yellow birch is kind of a big deal in the lumber industry. It’s used for many things from flooring to toothpicks. The bark is used is some crafts (ex. baskets).

The cellulose from rotting birch logs can be used as a fire starter. It’s highly flammable due to oil content.

Growing Betula Alleghaniensis

The book Eclectic Trees has a routine for planting the seeds from the cone in a seedbed in the fall and transplanting after 2 yrs, but saplings from native plant nurseries aren’t that expensive. If you want a birch that is long lived, yellow beats white.


And the Usual Cautions:

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

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

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.

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.

#ads in References

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Every book I reference that is available on Amazon is linked to with an associates link.



Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Mi’kmaq Medicines (2nd edition): Remedies and Recollections

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

Leave a Comment