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 the few 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:
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:
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.
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 Swamp Birch
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.
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.
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Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants