The Time to Tap Sap is Now 

Last week we decided to tap birch sap from two birches at our summer cottage. I know I’ve tried birch sap once before, but I couldn’t remember the taste. Having the first sip now was an ice cold experience, since we harvested the sap in the morning, and I couldn’t sense the flavors. Letting it become more room temperatured, I could later sense a touch of honey, lemon and a foresty flavor close to pine tree. I drink pine tree tea quite often, so the flavor was familiar to me, and being a bit of an herbal nerd, everything from the forest and wild nature falls into my liking. 

Other than the obvious flavors I could sense, I understood that this liquid from the birch must be containing so much more. With some search effort on the web, I found that it contains:

Water, calcium, kalium, magnesium, mangan, iron, saponins, proteins, plant hormones, proteins, amino acids, enzymes, vitamin c, pp and carotin. It also contains apple acid, which gives it a soft sourish taste. The sugar level is about 0,5-2 % and is mainly that of fructose and glucose. 

Birch sap tapping has been a tradition in all the Northern countries that has a lot of birch trees, like Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltic Countries, Central Europe and Balkan for a long time. There are indications that we’ve used birch sap already in the 1600’s, and my guess is that we’ve probably used it even further back in time. Back in the days you sometimes referred to drinking birch sap as ”drinking marrow from the bone”, since it comes from the core of the tree and it gives you a good boost of nutrition, just like bone marrow does. 

It’s a perfect, natural and all healthy alternative to sport drinks. It is also being used in some shampoos and body creams, due to its rejuvenating qualities. 

Some of the supposed health benefits: 

  • Drinking birch sap can aid your oral health, since it also contains xylitol 
  • If you drink birch sap you may ease allergic reactions to pollen. I can’t help but also recommend you to leave out dairy products (especially pasteurized ones) from your diet if you are experience pollen or grass allergies, since dairy products tend to add inflammation and swelling in your respiratory system. 
  • Aids fatigue and stress 
  • Invigorating 
  • Decreases excessive hunger 
  • Decreases headaches 
  • Aids colds and coughing 
  • Releases excessive salts from the body 
  • Gives energy to the function of your kidneys 
  • Supports the liver 
  • Decreases swelling and rheumatism 
  • Relaxes muscle tension 
  • Detoxes the blood 
  • Increases your metabolism 
  • Decreases cellulites 
  • Smoothens the skin if you wash your face or body with it 
  • Makes your hair soft as silk if you wash it with birch sap and a few drops of vinegar 

When starting to drink birch sap, you may want to go slow at start, since it has qualities that may have a detoxing effect on kidneys and kidney stones. Drink one glass at the time, so the body doesn’t react too quickly. 

If you decide to tap birch sap, there are some important things to think about, for the sake of and respect for the trees: 

  • The time window to tap is after the ground frost has melted and before the bud bursting. After that, the tree needs the sap for itself, and the taste also becomes more bitter. 
  • Some suggest that tapping when the moon is in its growing face (after new moon and before full moon) gives more sap, since the water is rising more then. 
  • Make sure you have the right to tap from the tree, either by being, or by having permission from, the land owner. The ”Right of Public Access” (Allemansrätten) that we otherwise have in Sweden does not apply to tapping from the trees. 
  • Choose a birch that is at least 30 years old. 
  • Don’t tap a birch more often than every 3rd year or more. If we do it more often, the tree may face an early death, since we’ve gone too hard on it. 
  • Locate the south side of the tree trunk and decide on a spot somewhere 30-120 centimeters up from the ground. Use a driller and drill a 3-4 cm deep hole slightly upwards into the tree trunk, (If the whole is deeper, it can lead to the tree getting more easily affected by rot or in other ways take damage). 
  • Put a carved stick, a straw or a tube into the whole to lead the water into a clean container, so the sap doesn’t pour down the trunk. The container can be a plastic or metal bottle, bucket or jar, or a strong plastic bag (a glass container may crack if it gets cold and freezes). If the container has a big opening, you can cover it with plastic or fabric, so you won’t get anything else into your container (like mosquitos, branches, pine needles or dirt).
  • A birch can give several liters of sap every day, so keep an eye on your tapping so that the container doesn’t flood over. You can tap up to 10-20 liters from a birch without problem. 
  • When you’re done tapping, you need to plug the whole with a fitted piece of wood, a cork, clay or wax, so the birch won’t keep on leaking the rest of the year. 
  • Give thanks to the tree! 
  • You can also tap sap from a branch, by cutting off a branch that is at least 1-2 cm wide (the wider branch, the more sap). Hang a bottle around it to collect the sap. If you use this method, you need to cover the cut surface with clay or vax after you’re done tapping, to stop the leaking and prevent damage. Then thank the tree! 
  • Store the birch sap cold and dry if you want it to stay fresh. You can store it in a fridge for about 3-14 days depending on quality and on who you ask. 
  • You can freeze the sap if you want to store it for a longer time. 
  • Take it out of the cold and let it reach room temperature before drinking, if you want to enjoy as much of the flavors as possible (everything that is very cold makes our taste buds less receptive to flavors). 
  • If you keep the sap out of the cold for a longer period of time, it starts getting fermented due to the sugars in it. Some thinks it has gone to waste then, while others prefer it that way, like a naturally sparkling drink full of nutrition. 

If you’ve tapped a lot of birch sap, there are some other fun things you can do with it, like birch sap wine, birch sap syrup etc. To make the wine, you need to add sugar, since the sugar level in the sap is so low. This is also the reason why you need as much as 10 liters of sap to make 1 liter of birch syrup. I am looking forward to try to make these, since it brings me a lot of joy to be able to make use of my close surroundings and the treasures that nature has to offer. 

Have you tried birch sap and how did you like it? Has this article made you curious on trying to tap some yourself? Looking forward to hear from you. 

Love, 

Sara 

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