A guide to birch tapping for beginners from Ukrainian childhood.
Hello friends, today I want to share my love of foraging with you. It's one of the few things that kept me sane over the past year. Each season brings us so many treasures to forage, and spring is one of the most enjoyable.
I have been very lucky to have been brought up in family with extensive knowledge of medicinal plants and mushrooms. The knowledge that my father and my gran gave me wasn't theoretical, so no Latin names of plants or spore prints I am afraid, but what they taught me was very practical. I knew the plants that could stop bleeding, or which plants I would need to make a herbal infusion to cure a cough. I never thought that this knowledge was exclusive in any way, as I assumed that everyone else around me knew about such things too, but the older I got the more I came to understand how fortunate I was to be gifted this knowledge; not from books but from my family. Who showed me how to to identify plants visually, by their taste and taught what they could be used were for.
Today I would like to share some information with you about tapping birch trees.
One spring day not that long ago, maybe 3 or 4 years ago, my daughters and I were playing in a park in the centre of Hereford. It's a beautiful, small play park with four tall silver birch trees in the centre of it. I stood under them while my children were playing and I felt a drop. It was a sunny day with no clouds in the sky, so I looked up and to my surprise saw dosens of sparkling drops hanging on thin branches above me. There it was, right in front of my eyes - birch sap rising. I was immediately taken back to my childhood; me and my father tapping birch and collecting their precious nectar to drink. I loved it for its freshness and sweetness, and was taught to value it as highly nutritious and full of vitamins.
During spring our bodies are adapting to warmer weather again and our immune systems need a boost to undertake all those changes. Birch sap is a very effective and natural way to boost it with little effort, and at no cost.
So, when do you start birch tapping?
Now, as the weather begins to turn, and buds appear on the trees. It is a small window; straight after maple sap tapping; at the end of February to the middle of March in the UK.
The tree should have no leaves when you tap it. And the sap flows best when the sun is shining.
What do you need for tapping birches?
A birch tree
A glass or any other container to collect sap
A drill with 8-12mm drill bit
A metal corner piece to channel the sap. You could use any piece of bendable metal, which would lodge into the tree, and act as a funnel for the sap.
First you need to identify few birch trees; not too young as they need their own juices to strengthen and grow, but not too old as the bark will be too thick and woody. Ideally your trees would be about 20-30 cm in diameter. Next use your drill (hand or electric) to drill through the bark of the trees roughly 50cm off the ground. You will need to drill in roughly 5cm into the tree. When you have drilled in far enough, the sap should start flowing.
Now it is time to collect your sap! I bought an 'aluminium angle' from B&Q and cut it into lengths of about 10cm long. Using the hammer, we knocked them into the bark, directly under the hole, which created a pathway for the sap to reach the bottle, which we placed under the 'angle'.
We tapped 4-5 trees at a time, and collected about 2-3 litres throughout the day, from all the trees. It will vary, depending on the conditions.
Each day the amount of sap the tree produces will reduce; but it will carry on giving for about a week. When the tree stops producing sap, it is important to put some clay/mud over the hole to seal it, so that the tree can heal.
Also its very important to remember that tapped birch sap is only good to drink for 3 days, then you must preserve it. It is high in minerals and vitamins and best consumed fresh. It has a nice fresh, slightly sweet flavour. It reminds me of fresh spring water. You can replace your drinking water with birch sap for few weeks, and your body will feel regenerated and be full of goodness.
There are a lot of recipes online how to preserve birch sap.
I'll leave you with a popular Ukrainian recipe for a delicious fermented "kvas" Birch sap recipe:
Birch Sap Kvas
10 litres of birch sap
a handful of raisins
a handful of dried fruit of any kind (apple, pear, berries)
300 grams of sugar.
Pour your birch sap through a clean muslin cloth to strain, then add all ingredients , stir and leave in a dark place to ferment for about 3 days. Strain again and pour into clean bottles, put lids on and leave in cool dry place. It should be good to drink for few months.
I really hope you will try it at home! And please let me know if you tried tapping birches.