Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Black Birch

Betula lenta

By Jeremy Trombley

Also known as the sweet or cherry birch, the black birch is well known for its abundant sap and fragrant bark. The sap can be collected just as that of maple trees. A hole is drilled into the tree, and a spike is placed firmly inside the hole. The bucket is attached to the end of the spike so that the sap will drip into it.

Birch trees produce large quantities of sap, much larger than maple trees. A few trees can provide an adequate supply of sap for making syrup in a very short period of time. However, birch sap is relatively low in sugar, and will not have the sweet taste of maple sap. In fact, the sap itself can be drunk without any preparation, and the taste has been likened to slightly sweet and fragrant water. The syrup, on the other hand, resembles molasses more so than maple syrup.

The aroma and taste of birch sap is similar to that of wintergreen and root beer. A tea can be made using the sap and twigs or the red inner bark of the tree. Simply boil the twigs or bark in the sap for a few minutes, until the flavor has steeped into the water. Another beverage that can be made with birch twigs is birch beer. The twigs are steeped in a mixture of birch sap and honey and then allowed to ferment for a couple of weeks. It can then be bottled and stored until it's ready to be consumed. The twigs or buds can also be chewed for their flavor, which is reminiscent to root beer. In all cases, the products of the black birch contain anti-inflamatory and analgesic agents which have been used similarly to aspirin.


Steve Brill – Black Birch

Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources – Black Birch

Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. Rev. New York: Harper, 1958.

Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Field guide ed. New York: D. McKay, 1962.