Today is the Vernal Equinox, the glorious first day of Spring. Currently it is windy and cold but the sun is shining strong, bringing hope of warmer days! I pause in my celebration of Spring to reflect for a short moment on the winter past. Isolation, meditation and self reflection were the themes of my hibernation. I learned a lot about myself and believe all of us had a similar experience of self awareness. Some of that awareness was a bit unsettling. My shadows were deep and too filled with anger and judgement. Fighting for a fair balance between shadow and light will always be a project. I hope the quiet of winter allowed everyone some healthy self-reflection. I promised a short reflection of winter so let us talk spring and new beginnings!
One of the best ways to wake up from the winter hibernation is with a good spring tonic. As I walked about this morning I could see the early arriving plants of Bittercress, Chickweed, Henbit, Deadnettle and a few Dandelions. I love all these early greens as fresh edibles but could not bring myself to face the wind for a good harvest. Then good fortune hit! The wind had cast several Birch tree twigs and branches to the ground. My mind turned to Birch spring tonics. No leaves yet, so twigs will do nicely. Birch sap and birch bark make great tonics for purification and a good jolt to the psyche. Why Birch? So happy you asked!
Birch trees have a long history of magical, medicinal and useful properties. For us spiritual types, Birch trees are associated with rebirth, renewal, beauty and inspiration. This graceful sparkling tree is not just another pretty face in the forest though! Historically their bark was used for paper, baskets and canoes as well as medicine. Every part of the tree is useful and, to a degree, edible. The clear sap makes a pleasant drink and tonic all on it’s own. The sap can also be fermented into an alcoholic beverage but I personally prefer teas and tonics. The inner bark can be placed directly on painful areas of the body for relief. Leaves, twigs and catkins can all be used for teas or infused into oils for topical use. Birch leaves have a high vitamin C content. The tree also has a high content of betulinic acid, explaining its anti-inflammatory properties.
Inner bark, leaves, twigs and catkins can all be used to make tea or oils. If you are allergic to birch pollen, take care with catkins to avoid reactions. Tea requires 3 or 4 fresh leaves or an equivalent of twigs and catkins. Pour one cup of hot, near boiling, water over the birch bits and let steep at least an hour. If you are making oil, use enough fresh leaves and twigs to half fill your container and cover with oil of choice, then let sit for a few weeks giving the jar a shake every now and again before using. If you are looking for a birch bitter for digestion, the tree matter can be covered with vinegar for a good digestive bitter.
Sap collection is a bit more tricky. Sap is the life blood of the tree and collection can be a bit invasive. Use a knife rather than a drill to reach the xylem of the tree where sap moves, place a stipe (tap/tube) and allow sap to drip into a container. Any cut branch will drip sap and bottles can be placed over for collection. Just remember the tree needs sap for its own nutrition and don’t over-collect. Sap can be drank fresh or cooked down gently to be used as a syrup. Safety for the tree also includes careful collection of bark. Never “circle” the tree when removing bark, small vertical strips allow the tree to continue to grow and be healthy. Even better, collect newly fallen branches and twigs. Which leads us back to today, my twigs and promises of tonic…
My collection includes lots of little fresh twigs with buds, yay! I know they are fresh because they are flexible and have a nice gummy smell when scraped. Cut up the small fresh twigs into wee bits, place in a mason jar (the essential container of all herbalists), heat some water to near boil and then pour over twigs. I will let that sit for a couple of hours and drink it when it is cool. I may throw in some dandelion blooms for fun and color. I don’t like to overheat a spring tonic and risk losing its good cleansing properties. Birch tonics and teas have a diuretic effect which is probably why they are considered a good purification drink for the spring.
Enjoy a nice birch tonic or tea to welcome the Spring. Of course, this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t say to eat your chickweed too! Soon the winter gloom will lift and you will be full of spring energy!