THE SILVER BIRCH,Betula pendula



MEDICINAL--------------------------------------YES  {SEE TEXT}

EDIBLE--------------------------------------------YES {LEAVES}


SIMILAR TREES-------------------------------DOWNY BIRCH.

OTHER NAMES--------------------------------"GRACEFUL LADY OF THE WOODS"


The silver birch belongs to the family Betulaceae which includes some of our most familiar trees, such as the common alder,hazel and the common hornbeams. The silver birch acquired a name that suits the tree very well--The graceful lady of the woods-  alluding to its graceful pendulous branches, its shining body and its petite green foliage giving a vision of elegance. In Scandinavian mythology the birch represents the spirit of Freya the mother goddess.




Mythology and folklore------

Long before the advent of electricity this species with its shining bark stood out like a beacon in moonlit forests a light in the darkness. This was regarded as a welcoming warming sight to travelers, among the dark black trunks of their fellow denizens.

Cradles made out of birch wood was said to protect the occupants from the attentions of spirits and goblins. In days long ago the belief in spirits, goblins,elves and fairies was rife among country folk. It was thought that goblins or one of their ilk would take the baby and replace it with one of their own.

Birch was said to be a symbol of unconditional love. It has been used to lift the spirits of those who are inclined to depression. The Anglo Saxon goddess of the spring and fertility,Eostre was celebrated through the birch.

Birch brooms were used in spring to sweep out the old year and welcome in the new one.

Get to know the silverbirch

Betula pendula lives for around 80-100 years old.                                   photo-Dal Rarely it may achieve the age of 120 years. It is another tree that is often chosen to brighten up parks and gardens and to line streets, where they grow to the height of 15-25M. Some specimens under exceptional circumstances have been recorded at the height of 30M. The airy, slender crown with its drooping branchlets give rise to its species name of pendula.

The bark is of a white colour often with somewhat diamond shaped markings with larger areas of dark near to the base. The bark often separates into thin papery plates. Birch bark is practicably imperishable due to the resinous oil which it contains. The rolled up bark, due to the resinous oil, was once employed with great benefit as torches. Even small amounts of this papery bark stripped from the tree is a useful product for lighting fires, as many who camp out in the woods will testify.

These layers of bark are so durable that they were considered to be waterproof. So much so that they were once utilised in the making of buckets. Other cottage crafts employing the bark included baskets, bags, even " bottles" and many more items. The bark made a durable skin for canoes which the native American Indians used to their advantage. Birch wood is soft and workable,however, the wood unlike its bark, is prone to rot ,thus, it is not used in building projects. it is used to make items such as broom handles, cups,bowls,cotton bobbins, clogs,toys and other items such as kitchen utensils.

It has been employed as a roofing material in some regions and also as a parchment for writing upon. Indeed the name birch is thought to derive from the Sanskrit-bhurga indicating a tree whose bark can be written upon. The whiteness in the bark is due to tiny grains of betulin a chrystalized pigment.

ROOT SYSTEM-- The root system is shallow and the tree may suffer in times of drought. it is one of the first trees to get established on barren soil. The seedlings soon germinate and the spread continues. However, the birch often gives way to other more dominant species after it has fertilized the ground around it with several years of leaf litter. The dominant species not allowing enough light for the seedlings of birch to develop. Birch requires a deep fertile soil to get established.

Below. Silverbirch saplings need room and light to get established.


Foliage and shoots

The young shoots are shiny and of a reddish colour with many glands that appear wart-like. The foliage is triangular and toothed. They are broadest at at their base tapering to a pointed tip. they are 4-7 cm long and arranged alternately with stalks 2-3 cm long and hairless.

The flowers are produced in the form of catkins. Male and female catkins occur on the same tree.  The male catkins are yellow brown and are cylindrical but linear about 8-10 cm long, while those of the female are stalked slender green catkins 2-3 cm long. Flowering occurs in April and May.

Below. Young new shoots and foliage on a silverbirch sapling.


Medicinal and culinary uses.

For medicinal purposes the birch has been employed in a variety of ways. The leaves were used as a tonic laxative. They have been infused to produce a birch "tea" that was said to alleviate the symptoms of gout.,rheumatism and water retention. The infusion was also regarded as being efficient in dissolving the kidney stone.

A decoction of the leaves was used in the form of a lotion which was regarded as a good healer of skin eruptions. Indeed, the leaves have been proved to have an antibacterial property. The tea was also claimed to lower cholesterol.

In days gone by the a hole was drilled into the tree trunk during early spring when the sap was rising. A container was placed beneath the drill hole in order to catch the clear watery sap, which emerged slowly over a long period of time. This sap makes a delicious drink and is also excellent for skin complexion when utilised as a lotion. However, it must be noted that here in the U.K. this drilling of birch trees is now illegal. The only birch trees that may be drilled are the ones that are designated to be felled. even so you still need the permission of the land owner before you commence.

The inner bark was used in the form of a decoction to treat intermittent fevers. Birch water has a good reputation as an external tonic for the scalp.

The young leaves are a great addition to spring salads.

Below silverborch woodland


Uplifting silverbirch.

In his book THE SPIRIT OF TREES, Fred Hageneder tells of how, when he was a young boy, he was feeling despondent. He sat with his back to a birch tree. he writes--" my eyes followed the trunk into the sky. At the same time my soul was lifted too. I tilted my head back and sat with my spine following the gentle movement of the tree swaying in the breeze. As I did so , a great sense of peace filled my soul, and my mind was liberated from its emotional cage"

All in all the graceful lady of the woods is a beautiful tree which man kind should treat with the respect it has earned over the centuries. 

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