from low shrub to tree size; white bark which peels laterally, paper thin;
leaves oval to heart-shaped, with fine-toothed edges, sharp tips; catkins,
sometimes long and drooping.
slopes to tundra to peat bogs.
traditionally have used birch in numerous ways. The wood is used to make
snowshoes, sleds and their runners, spoons and dishes. The bark was
wrapped around fractures, rolled up into a tube for calling moose, and
used to make containers (baskets) for storage, gathering, drinking cups,
baby cradles and canoes. Birch sap is food as well as a medicine for
people in Interior Alaska. Birch sap is suitable for drinking directly
from the tree, as a beverage and spring tonic. It is used on boils and
sores as a medicine. Sap can also be rendered into syrup, or fermented
into wine. A decoction of the leaves is used as a diuretic, is said to
break kidney stones, and is gargled for sore mouths and canker sores. May
be used externally in antiseptic ointments for skin diseases, and for
stiff muscles and joints. Birch leaf is a gentle sedative. It is a
"blood purifier". Birch bark makes brown dye for skins. It is
used for tannin. Leaves of B. nana are said to dye a better yellow
than common birch. To obtain a strongly flavored wintergreen tea, pour
boiling water over a large quantity of twigs and/or shredded bark and
allow to stand in a covered container
for several days, then strain and reheat. Since the tea is derived from
bark and twigs, it is available throughout the year.
The bark and twigs of sweet and yellow birches contain
aromatic oil, methyl salicylate, which is almost identical, to the oil from wintergreen (Gautheria procumbens). Wintergreen
flavoring, used in candies, gums, toothpastes and medicines, when not
synthetic, is usually derived from birch (Historical note: methyl
salicylate was used in the preparation of aspirin. Until 1874, aspirin
was prepared by hydrolysis of the oils from sweet birch bark or
wintergreen leaves.). Birch bark baskets are premium gift items in Alaska.
or Processing Comments:
be gathered in spring. Care must be taken when harvesting sap, not to over
tap the tree, and when gathering bark, it is important to take only the
outer, white-paper bark. If the under layer of bark is stripped, or
girdled, the tree will die. Also, harvesting bark disfigures the tree, and
so should be done in more remote locations.
For commercial purposes, a stand of birch should be identified and
designated for sustained yield. The actual concentrations of methyl
salicylate in Alaskan birch trees needs to be investigated. Birch bark and
twigs must not be dried by heat above 80°F, as heat will drive off the