birch bark

Beverages

Birch Beer: A Refreshing, Non-Alcoholic Drink

                          Birch Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage

                          Birch Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage

Winter is typically a slow season when it comes to foraged plants. Deciduous trees, the ones that lose their leaves, are at rest in the winter. When it comes to some of the birch trees, this is exactly the right time to harvest the flavorful cambium, the layer between the inner bark and the wood, for a delicious beverage. It is much easier to identify trees when their leaves emerge and when they form flowers and seeds, but winter is a great opportunity to see how the branches grow and what the structure and shape of the tree looks like. Most birch trees have a distinct bark with horizontal markings called lenticels and outer bark that peels in wide strips, making them easy to recognize even without their leaves. Older trees may have darker bark, but you can see the distinct silvery quality of the bark in younger branches. The inner bark of yellow birch and black birch smell like wintergreen when you scratch it. The stronger the smell, the better the birch beer will taste.  

   
Black birch trees can be mistaken for cherry trees - the bark in both look similar. Only the birch tree smells  like wintergreen. You do not need to peel the the bark from the trunk. In fact, if you did peel the bark completely around the trunk in a circle, you would kill the tree. No, all you need is a few smaller twigs, which can be trimmed with a pocket knife. Often, after a storm, you'll find broken branches in perfect condition for collecting the cambium. Two small, fresh branches growing as far from the trunk as possible, 8-10 inches long and 1/2-inch to 1-inch in diameter, would be enough to make 2-3 quarts of strong birch beer.

Prepare the Birch Bark Shavings
Fill a 2-3 quart container with room temperature drinking water.
Have a cookie sheet handy to collect the pieces that fall as you scrape the cambium.
Cut the outer bark from the branch, exposing the green inner bark.

This is a photo of the shaved inner bark and cambium from a black birch. The idea is to scrape, not cut, so  you end up with greenish and whitish shavings. Use a sharp knife, scrape through the inner bark to the cambium, letting the fluffy pieces fall onto a cookie tray. Gather the scraped inner bark and cambium. Immerse it in room-temperature water. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours. The brew should range from amber to dark brown. Add more inner bark, if necessary. Strain solids. I use a coffee filter, but a strainer or cheese cloth will also work and add equal amounts of maple syrup. For carbonation, add seltzer water.                                                                                                                                 

Timeline
Note: You need to scrape the cambium as soon after you harvest the branches as possible. Do not let the branches dry out. Once you immerse the cambium in liquid and then strain it, birch beer can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
4-6 Hours Before:
Harvest two small, fresh birch branches up to 1" diameter, 8"-10" long
Collect 1-2 handfuls of small, fresh twigs
Fill container with room temperature drinking water
Scrape cambium on to cookie sheet
Add cambium to water
Refrigerate
1-2 Hours Before:
Remove from refrigerator and strain liquid
Add 1 cup grade B or 2 cups Grade A syrup and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
5-10 Minutes Before:
Add carbonation if desired
Serve

Shopping List
Foraged items:
2- small, fresh birch branches, up to 1" diameter, 8-10" long
1-2 handfuls of small, fresh match stick size twigs
Pantry Items:
Drinking water
Maple syrup
Cinnamon
Seltzer (optional)
Kitchen Items
Strainer or coffee filter or cheese cloth
2-3 quart water container
Cookie sheet

Yes, You Can Find Yummy Wild Edibles in Winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but once the snow, sleet and freezing rain passes and the winds die down, it's time to head out for pine needles, birch bark and rose hips. Some foraged foods are meant to be
harvested in winter.

One advantage of learning how the plants look in all seasons is that you know just where to go when it's time to harvest.

                            Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C.

                            Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C.

Pine needles, the mature leaves of the pine tree, are very high in Vitamin C. They so familiar and accessible that we tend to walk right by them without really paying attention to them. All you need is a handful of pine needles, gathered nearest the trunk, where they are highest in Vitamin C. Making pine needle tea is as easy as boiling water.

                              Beautiful, icy rose hips in winter.

                              Beautiful, icy rose hips in winter.

Rose hips are the seeds of the wild roses have lost their blossoms, the bright red berries, are actually quite palatable after a night below freezing temperatures. I like rose hip tea best, but rose hips can be found in other recipes.

I do not know why the liquid created from the inner bark of the birch tree is called "beer." But common names are typically confusing. Winter is the only time to harvest the flavorful cambium, the layer between the inner bark and the wood, for a delicious beverage.

The technique for harvesting the cambium and preparing this beverage are easy, but you need to follow the procedure to ensure you do not harm the birch tree. This tree is easy to identify even without its leaves, because it has the distinct smell of wintergreen. Birch tree branches that have been broken during a storm are the easiest to harvest. You want a branch that is roughly as thick around as two fingers.  Use a paring knife or your pocket knife to shave the bark. Hold the knife at an angle when you do this and you will be able to see three layers. The outer layer is thin, like paper, the inner layer is the hard wood, and the middle layer is soft and easy to scrape. The soft middle layer, called cambium, is what you will use to make this beverage.

                                                                                                        Birch beer shavings.

                                                                                                        Birch beer shavings.

Winter is the the most challenging time of year to forage for plants. Our ancestors needed a large supply of stored food and remarkable hunting skills to survive winter. Maybe that is why my foraging soul finds pine needles, rose hips and birch bark so precious.