Birch Trees in SpringLate March to early April would have been a delight to our ancestors. After a long, cold winter with food reserves running low, the first signs of spring would have been welcome, none more so than sweet, nutritious Birch Sap.

What is Birch Sap?

Birch sap is a highly nutritious liquid that flows during early spring from roots to buds inside a Birch tree. It is the essence, the life-blood, of the tree, carrying nutrients essential for growth. Birch sap is also a seasonal source of vitamins, minerals and sugars – mainly fructose and glucose. Vitamins and minerals include potassium, manganese, thiamine, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, sodium, iron, amino acids and Vitamin C – perfect for fending off spring colds.

How to Tap a Birch Tree

Tapping a Birch tree for sap does not harm the tree if carried out correctly. As well as getting the landowner’s permission to tap the Birch trees, make sure you only tap Birch trees that are more than 25cm in diameter. Birch trees should only be tapped once every three years.

Birch sap does not stay fresh for long. If you are tapping a tree, be sure to use the sap for its intended purpose within a couple of days. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can tap now and process later – this will affect the taste and chemical properties of the Birch sap. Birch syrup on the other hand has a shelf life of around two years.

  • Drill a 40-60mm hole with an 8-12mm sterile drill bit at a slight upward angle, close to ground level but high enough to get your collection container underneath.
  • Insert a length of sterile ‘food grade’ plastic tubing into the hole (the same diameter as the hole) and put the other end into a sterile ‘food grade’ plastic container (a clean 2 litre plastic milk carton is ideal).
  • Once tapping is complete, spray each hole with clean water and insert a clean cork. Ensure the material used to cork the hole is a tight fit. An unplugged tap in a Birch tree means it can literally bleed to death.

If you only want to collect a small amount of sap you can make an incision in the bark with a sharp knife. Plug this after collection with a slither of wood or sod of earth, like applying a plaster.

Be sure to always plug any tap hole after sap collection.

What can Birch Sap be used for?

There are many uses of Birch sap, especially for cooking. Apart from being used for beer and wine making, Birch sap also makes a delicious tea or nourishing soft-drink. Boiled down to make a sweet syrup it can be used as a flavouring agent in sauces and marinades for meat, fish or in baking as an alternative to other sweeteners.

In many countries, Birch syrup is used as an herbal medicine with antiseptic, anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Photo credit: greenhem