I adore spring as an excellent time to detox and tune up to the signs from nature. It’s nature itself who reminds us to clean ourselves after the long winter hibernation. Of course, you can head over to the organic store and buy some trendy detox powder or liquid. However, I look for detox remedies in the wild. First, what comes to my mind is the birch sap that I learned to tap when I was a child.
Back in Ukraine, we had an old birch tree that stood on the line splitting our properties – sometimes creating arguments about whom that tree belonged to. 😃
But none of these conflicts prevented our family from keeping the tradition of collecting birch sap every spring, drinking it instead of water and preserving it in fermented form for as long as possible. I will tell you more on fermenting the birch sap down below but first I will finish the childhood story of mine. 😉
As a boy, every day in April I started mornings by walking down through the garden to visit the birch tree. It became quite a habit of mine to routinely check if the 3-litre jar was full and replace it with an empty one, thanking the birch for the gift she shared with us and sipping a healing drink right from the top of the jar.
I still keep the tradition of collecting birch sap here in Canada. I’m blessed to live within walking distance to a wilderness area with thriving birch trees in the mix of other neighbours like maples, aspens, elks, poplars, pines and cedars.
I became curious about why birch and maple release sap every spring while other trees don’t, and here is what I’ve found.
In the summer, due to photosynthesis, plants, with the sunlight’s help and from carbon dioxide and water, will create necessary organic substances including glucose (sugar). The tree stores excess glucose, turning it into starch and accumulates it in the roots.
In winter, the tree sleeps and therefore consumes a minimum amount of glucose. When the spring arrives so does the process of bud burst and leaf growth, requiring a lot of nutrients. The tree retrieves last year’s reserves, and the starch from the roots decomposes into sugar and rises with the water to the branches where new leaves should burst.
You can see that when buds appear on the branches, if you accidentally break the branch or cut the bark, due to the root’s pressure the clear liquid will be released from the tree’s trunk.
This process occurs with all trees, and the sap of all trees is sweet, thanks to the glucose.
However, most plants send sugar to the phloem (the living tissue in plants that moves food to grow tips and fruit), which is a slower but much more reliable procedure.
Whereas birch and maple pass the sap upwards via the sapwood, which is located deeper inside the tree trunk. This process flows faster although with significant losses.
The sap collection season starts at the end of March and continues through April when the first signs of blooms, reminding earrings appear on the birches.
In this video, I show step by step how you can collect birch sap:
Before you start collecting birch sap, you should choose the “right” tree. The birch should not be too young or too old. The young trees’ juicing weakens the birch, and the old tree’s bark is too thick. Therefore, it is better to stop your choice on a tree with a trunk circumference of about 25 cm.
Choose the tree that is growing as far as possible from the roadway in an environmentally friendly place. If a tree has been breathing dust and gases from cars for many years, its sap can be poisonous.
But, your birch doesn’t need to be from a forest. As long as it is away from the road, you can also use trees in your backyard. Here are 3 steps to tap birch tree:
- Select birch, mark the place at the bottom of the trunk at the height of 0.5 to 1 meter.
- At this level, drill a hole about 2-3 centimetres deep. Try not to make it too big because it is a small wound for a tree. In the formed hole, you need to insert a piece of tin, forming something like a spout, through which the juice will flow into the container. Bring with you a several-litre jar or bottle as utensils. Your dish will be gradually filled around the clock, so you have to change the dish several times a day. On a warm spring day I usually exchange the jar once in the morning and once in the evening. When you change your bucket or jar, replace it with a clean one. If you leave the old one in place bacterias will start to collect on the interior walls. You will see them in the form of the slims and foam on the water formed after. Therefore bring a new jar and even better – cover it with a cheesecloth.
You will notice that the birch is running sap most intensively from noon to 6pm. And on average, one tree gives 2-3 (and actually might be up to 7) litres of sap per day.
NOTE: Of course, we can harm the tree while collecting the sap as we are taking its important nutrients. However, if the tree is mature and robust, it stores enough spare compounds to supply and feed the whole tree system. Besides that, we still have to be cautious about another much more severe threat to the tree. When we damage the trunk and branches, we open the gates to bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Therefore, when we practice birch sap harvesting, I choose the strong tree when I start and don’t tap the same tree two years in a row.
3. After finishing collecting, plug the hole with a piece of wood and grease the wound with the soil.
You will enjoy the sap the best when it’s fresh, without any thermal processing, the same as with every gift from Mother Nature.
Drink the sap in the spring instead of drinking water or drink 1 glass 3-4 times a day, preferably half an hour before a meal.
Birch sap tastes almost no different from ordinary water. But you will identify a slightly sweet flavour due to the small concentration of natural sugar in its composition as well as noticeable woody zest.
Personally, what I delight in the birch sap is the clear, not-processed and not-refined natural taste.
If you try making comparisons to tap water bought in your favourite organic store, mineral water or juice, you will notice right away that the birch sap tastes the most light to digest and consume. Now, when it becomes difficult to find clean water that has not been processed, especially when you live in the city, birch sap may be your alternative—an alternative not only for drinking but also for treating your body too.
Do not forget that what you eat and walk directly affects your health and improves your immunity. So if you would like to live in harmony with nature, choose a natural drink.
You can safely store the sap in the fridge for no more than two or three weeks.
Recently, creative homesteaders came up with another way of storing birch sap – via freezing. It does not require any preparation, and in the frozen state, sap perfectly retains its properties. Just pour fresh juice into a container, cover it with a lid and put it in the freezer. If necessary, remove and defrost. The only downside is that this product will occupy lots of space in the freezer.
Often birch sap is used to make compotes, jelly, coffee, tea and porridge.
If you collected lots of sap, I encourage you to make ever more delicious beverages using sap as a base. For example, here are three easy and piquant recipes:
BIRCH CIDER. Mix 12 litres of birch sap with 2.5 litres of wine, add 3.2 kg of sugar and 4 finely chopped lemons. Close the pan tightly and put it in a cool place for 2 months. Strain, bottle, cap, and keep for 2 weeks.
CRUSHON. Mix 0.5 litres of birch sap and dry white wine, 0.5 glass of sugar. Store in the fridge for 2-3 hours and serve with sparkling mineral water.
COCKTAIL. Beat in a mixer 3 glasses of sap, 6 tbsp of any berry syrup and 150 g of fruit popsicles. While serving, put more ice cream on top.
Birch sap has long been used to be preserved as a wonderful kvass. You will have fun drinking the sap as kvass for quite a long time. I will share a couple of the most straightforward recipes for birch kvass that you can make by yourself:
- For 10 litres of fresh birch sap, add about 200 grams of rye bread, 150 grams of sugar and dried fruit (apples, pears, raisins, etc.). In only a few days, you can serve kvass to your party guests.
- You can also prepare kvass this way. To 10 litres of birch sap, add the juice of 4 lemons, 50 g of yeast, 30 g of honey or sugar, raisins or rose hips at the rate of 2-3 fruits per bottle. Pour liquid into bottles and keep for 1-2 weeks in a cool dark place. Kvass can be ready in 5 days, and thanks to the additives’ help, this fermented drink will not spoil. It can be stored for the whole summer.
BONUS RECIPE: I recall an antique fermented recipe that my grandma used to store enormous sap volumes for a long time. Here is how it was done those times, in the 70s:
The juice is poured into a bottle and placed in a dark room. In 2-3 days, it will sour a little. Add roasted barley grains or rye rusks (for 5 litres of juice – 30 g of rusks). Infuse for a day, strain and serve into glasses.
Another sweeter version requires the replacement of barley grains with burned sugar.
Of course, you can find recipes that require thermal treatment. However, if you want to consume as many nutritional elements from the sap as possible, I suggest you don’t boil it.
Keep in mind, please!!! You have to finish harvesting sap before the birch starts to release the blooms. If you’re reading this in April of the northern hemisphere visit your local forestry area today and don’t miss the moment to tap the birch.
I hope you find this article helpful and you have learned something new about the seasonal flavors*.
No matter where you’re in the world you always have a chance to appreciate your local nature. Even when there’s essentially nothing growing in your garden and nothing left in the cellar from the goods you managed to get canned and frozen, the good news is that there are plenty of edible plants and drinks outside in the wild. When you keep yourself open to experiments in applying the pieces of nature into your food you create hyper-seasonal cooking for yourself and your family all year round. Enjoy the seasonal flavors, but do not forget that nature must be protected.
In fact, I write to you, and I really want you to feel “at home” on this website and want to come here again. That is why I am interested in knowing your opinion on what else you are curious about in the world of wild, nutritious food.
P.S. I’d love to invite you to join my online community if you feel inclined.
*Yes, I really like this term “seasonal flavours” as one more stream of passions that I adore in my adventures with edible plants, and you will see this term recycled in new videos and blogs.