Monday, January 31, 2011

Sweet Birch

The frigid nature of this winter has kept me indoors more often than I would like. Cabin fever seems to be pressing in on all sides.  My house is clean, my work is done and I am a bit bored.  In order to combat the feeling of being stuck inside I have been studying for my Adirondack Guide licensing test, reading books, and have taken a wilderness first aid class.  I also finished up a sewing project that I had put down for a while and started up a new one.  Although these things are keeping my mind occupied well enough they don't satisfy the desire to sit outside and breath in the fresh air.   It was twenty two degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) this morning - that sort of air does not feel good to the lungs.

What did momentarily satisfy my hunger (I suppose I should say thirst) for the outdoors was brewing up some Sweet Birch tea.   I wasn't sure that the year-old dried out pieces of bark would offer up much flavor or nutrition however I was pleasantly surprised with the beautiful and delicious tea that it made.
Sweet Birch, or Black Birch
Birch trees can be tapped and the sap used much like the sap from Maple trees.  If you have ever had birch beer (try Boylan's ) you may, in fact, have drank the sap from a birch tree.   Yellow, white, and black Birches all produce sugary saps.  Interestingly, the prime time to gather birch sap is a month later than maple sugaring season.

This bark contains methyl salicylate (also contained in wintergreen), which is an anti-inflamatory and antiseptic medicine.   Methyl salicylate is used in asprin, mouthwashes, arthritis medicines, etc.

The flavor of the tea is really great.  It tastes a bit like wintergreen but less sharp and cool.  It has a lovely sweet and somewhat licorice like aftertaste which reminds me of sassafras.   Wild teas are one of my favorite things to have on hand while I am out in the woods (or to find while I am out in the woods).  Not only do they have nutritional bonuses of vitamins, antioxidants and beneficial chemical compounds but they are delicious and comforting which I find encourages me to hydrate myself well at the end of a strenuous day.  Add a little sugar and you are replenishing your sugar stores as well.

Even the color of Sweet Birch tea is inspiring!


  1. That is amazing! You accomplished that just by boiling the bark? How cool!

  2. Hey cool blog. Nice meeting you at the Wilderness First Aid class.

    You should visit the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, they have tons of New Jersey Tea growing there, and lots of sweet fern, which I've heard makes good tea.

  3. Very nice! I loved tasting this tea at your house!

  4. Hi Sharah,

    I've been searching around the web for a good picture of a Black Birch, and came upon you blog. I'm wondering if you'd grant permission to re-use this photograph? At Common Ground High School in New Haven, CT, our students are working on a series of outdoor interpretive exhibits ( One of the exhibits includes information about the cool properties of black birch trees. How would you feel about this photo being used on our students' exhibit? Let me know what you think (

    Joel Tolman