Silver Birch (Betula pendula) is a hardy, deciduous tree that not only looks good with its graceful silver stems and yellow autumn leaves, but produces fine pale cream timber.
Silver Birch provides year round colour and is often planted in groups to give more effect.
Once established it provides shelter to other, less robust trees.
This British native species also benefits wildlife and the environment wherever it is planted. Silver birch is characteristic of sandy heaths but it will tolerate a wide range of other situations.
The Silver Birch typically reaches heights of 15-25 m tall, with a slender crown of arched branches with drooping branchlets. The bark is white, often with black diamond-shaped marks or larger patches at the base.
The triangular leaves are 3-6 cm long, with a broad base and pointed tip, and have coarsely serrated margins.
The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins (3-5 cm long) that are produced before the leaves in early spring. The small (1-2 mm) winged seeds ripen on the catkins in late summer.
Silver Birch is distinguished from the related Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) in having hairless, warty shoots (hairy, without warts in Downy Birch), and whiter bark often with scattered black fissures (greyer, less fissured, in Downy Birch).
The two species have subtle differences in habitat requirements, with Silver Birch found mainly on dry, sandy soils, and Downy Birch more common on wet, poorly drained sites such as clay soils and peat bogs.
Silver Birch also demands slightly more summer warmth than Downy birch, which is significant in the cooler parts of Europe.
Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a meal that can be added as a thickener to soups etc or can be mixed with flour for making bread, biscuits etc.
Raw or cooked has a sweet flavour. It is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It makes a pleasant drink. It is often concentrated into a syrup by boiling off the water.
Between 4 and 7 litres can be drawn off a mature tree in a day and this will not kill the tree so long as the tap hole is filled up afterwards. However, prolonged or heavy tapping will kill the tree. The flow is best on sunny days following a frost. The sap can also be fermented into a beer.
According to survival expert Ray Mears, the tree's sap, when used to make ice cubes containing a mint leaf, makes an excellent accompaniment when added to a glass of single malt whisky.
Raw or cooked. A tea is also made from the leaves
Another tea is made from the essential oil in the inner bark.
Silver Birch is Finland's national tree. Occasionally one uses leafy, fragrant boughs of Silver Birch to gently beat oneself in a sauna. The boughs are called vihta or vasta. This has a relaxing effect on the muscles.
DISCLAMER : Any uses for trees or tree extracts. whether edible or medicinal, have not been tried or tested by EFORESTS.CO.UK so please take caution and seek proper advice before attempting any recipes or medicinal extracts from any of the trees listed on our site.
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