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Paper Birch Tea

Last Updated on September 11, 2023

If you love making healthy teas from medicinal plants, you need to try birch tea! Try this traditional and tasty birch leaf tea or birch bark tea made from birches you can forage all year round.

DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN MAKE TEA FROM BIRCH TREES?

When you first start learning about the vast array of medicinal plants growing all around you, it can be mind-blowing to discover how many can be made into delicious and healing teas made from wild herbs to enjoy throughout the year.

Every season I add new plants to my mental collection of herbs I can harvest for tea. Over the years I’ve learned to make elderflower tea, goldenrod tea, dandelion tea, even creeping Charlie tea. (It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but definitely one worth acquiring!)

As I’ve expanded the foraging possibilities to include the many trees growing in my yard and neighborhood, I’ve come to enjoy making spruce tea, pine needle tea, mulberry leaf tea, and ginkgo biloba tea. I’ve even explored the possibilities for edible pine cones.

This season I’m adding birch tea to the list. Birch is one of many medicinal trees worth getting to know.

WHAT IS BIRCH TEA? (BIRCH LEAF TEA OR BIRCH BARK TEA)

Birch tea is made by steeping parts of one of the many species of birch tree growing around the world in hot water. Tea made from the bark of the birch tree is probably the best known, but it’s important for would-be foragers to understand that stripping a tree of its bark can kill it, and that’s not how we make tea from live birch trees. If a tree is about to be cut down or has already fallen, then it’s ok to harvest the bark.

To forage birch for tea without harming the birch tree, you have a few choices. You can use leaves or twigs, or harvest bark from fallen branches or from trees that are about to be cut down.

To make tea from whatever part of the birch tree you’ve harvested, you simply steep in hot water for 10 minutes before drinking. You can simmer birch tea briefly on the stove if you prefer, but this method likely destroys some of the valuable compounds that makes us want to drink birch tea in the first place.

BIRCH TEA BENEFITS & USES

Birch leaves and bark contain methyl salicylate, a relative of the compound that gives aspirin its pain-relieving abilities. A long-standing remedy for urinary issues, birch leaf has been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

Andrew Chevallier reports that birch has anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, analgesic, and diaphoretic properties. He notes that birch’s combination of compounds that address kidney problems and rheumatism “makes it a valuable remedy in conditions where symptoms reflecting kidney weakness…occur side by side with rheumatic problems such as stiff and aching muscles, arthritic pain, and leg cramps.”

Chevallier says a decoction of the leaves and twigs can be used externally in a warm compress to soothe achy muscles.

Native Americans used birch for gastrointestinal problems, as an analgesic, and to soothe skin conditions. I’ve read that the young leaves are a source of vitamin C and that the inner bark contains minerals, but I haven’t seen any sources to back up these claims.

In the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Steven Foster and James Duke note that in addition to paper and white birch, the bark, twigs, and leaves of black or sweet birch were also used for fevers, stomachaches, and skin diseases.

Like so many other medicinal plants, scientists are researching the therapeutic possibilities for the many compounds found in different birch species.

Curious to try birch tea but don’t have access to birch trees? You can buy birch tea online. Mountain Rose Herbs carries both birch bark and leaf.

CAUTIONS

Those allergic to birch pollen should not drink birch tea. In The Green Pharmacy, James Duke also suggests avoiding birch (and other plants containing methyl salicylate) for anyone allergic to aspirin.

The European Medicines Agency recommends avoiding birch tea for those under age 12.

WHEN TO FORAGE BIRCH

One of the advantages of birch tea is that you can make it any time of year using twigs or fallen branches you find. Birch tea can also be made from leaves during the growing season.

Twigs used for tea are best if they’re still pliable. If twigs are brittle, they’re not recommended for tea. When you break or scratch them, they should emit a noticeable smell of wintergreen.

Likewise, if you want to make birch bark tea, strip the fallen branch of the papery outer layers of bark and use a sharp knife to pull off the inner bark, which you can chop and put in your teapot.

Dried buds, leaves, and bark are sold for tea if you’d rather not forage it yourself or don’t have access to birch trees.

WHAT TYPES OF BIRCH CAN BE USED TO MAKE BIRCH TEA?

The main types of birch used for making tea are silver birch (Betula pendula) and white birch (Betula pubescens), which also goes by the names hairy birch, downy birch or moor birch. Some sources recommend the flavor of sweet birch (Betula lenta).

Other birches you may come across include paper birch (Betula papyrifera), river birch (Betula nigra), sweet birch (Betula lenta) as well as numerous others in North America and around the world. With scores of species of birch worldwide (more than a dozen in North America), it’s best to consult a field guide specific to your region. Here’s one for the eastern United States and here’s one for the west.

Note that there are regional differences in the names, so black birch and sweet birch may refer to different Betula species. If you’re after a certain kind of birch, use the botanical rather than the common name to avoid confusion.

I have some river birches and paper birches growing near my home. I use the paper birch leaves and twigs for birch tea.

BIRCH TREE IDENTIFICATION {HOW TO IDENTIFY BIRCH TREES}

Anytime you forage a new plant, you want to make sure you’re positively identifying it using multiple features of the plant. Birches, fortunately, don’t have toxic look alikes you need to worry about.

-> Always consult a good field guide to ensure you’ve got the correct plant. These are some of the best foraging books I’ve read if you need some recommendations.

If you’re new to foraging, consider taking a course on foraging or wildcrafting. The Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, for example, can help you feel more confident foraging wild plants. They also have numerous herbalism courses worth checking out.

GROWTH HABIT

Birches can grow up to 70 feet tall, though of course less mature birch trees will be shorter.

Silver birch is also known as weeping birch because of the drooping habit of its leaves and branches. Other species have more upright habits.

BARK

Most people recognize white birch trees’ distinctive papery bark, though many species have silvery or red bark. Birch bark has horizontal streaks through it called lenticels, which are pores for the tree to exchange gases.

Birch bark will appear to be peeling, helping you distinguish it from the similar-looking aspen, the bark of which does not peel.

LEAVES

Birch leaves are egg-shaped or triangular with pointy tips and toothed edges. They grow in an alternating pattern on branches and tend to grow 2 to 3 inches long. You’ll notice some variability in the shape of leaves on different species of birch trees.

FLOWERS

Birch trees produce elongated clusters of flowers called catkins in spring. Anyone with an allergy to the pollen will start having trouble when these flowers come out. The catkins stay on through the season, so they’re another way you might positively identify birches.

WHAT DOES BIRCH TEA TASTE LIKE?

Most birches have a characteristic wintergreen flavor, some species more than others. Tea made from fresh bark or twigs will have more of the wintergreen flavor than tea made from leaves.

Like other plants, birch leaves (and to a lesser extent twigs) can taste different at different times of year. The new birch leaves you harvest in spring will have a brighter flavor than those that have weathered an entire season.

Tea made from leaves has a lighter, greener flavor than that made from twigs. The tea I brewed from paper birch leaves harvested in early fall had a very mild green flavor with a slightly fruity finish. Quite delightful!

HOW TO DRY BIRCH LEAVES & BARK

You can preserve some of your birch leaves and bark for later use if you like. All you need is a screen to try them on. If you plan to dry large quantities of birch leaves or other herbs, I highly recommend getting a drying screen like this one. It has tons of space and folds up into a tiny package you can tuck away in a closet when the season for drying herbs ends. I’ve used it for foraged nettle and elderflowers, plantain, linden, goldenrod, mulberry leaf, and lots more.

In order for herbs to dry properly, you need dry air, so if your house is humid, you’ll need a dehydrator. I prefer stainless steel dehydrators like this one to the plastic kind. They last forever and are make putting up huge quantities of seasonal fruit a breeze. We use ours for drying bananas, apples, peaches, and plums and make delicious homemade fruit leather from our abundant rhubarb.

To dry birch leaves or birch bark: Place harvested leaves in a single layer on your drying screen or dehydrator trays. Allow to dry until brittle.

Store leaves whole and crumble them when you’re ready to make birch tea.

If you’ve found more fresh twigs than you want to use right away, they can be stored in the freezer until you’re ready for them.

Find out more about preserving herbs if you want to have helpful medicinal herbs at hand all year round.

HOW TO MAKE BIRCH TEA 2 WAYS {BIRCH LEAF TEA OR BIRCH BARK TEA}

Note that this is really two different recipes, as the options for ingredients produce very different versions of birch tea. Birch leaf tea will taste quite different than birch bark tea or tea made with birch twigs.

Have you ever tried birch tea?

Save this info on birch leaf tea and birch bark tea for later!

Disclaimer: I’m a health & foraging enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.