Tapping for Birch Sap
Early spring is the time to get to the woods and hear the sap rising! Birch Sap traditionally has been drunk as a refreshing and cleansing spring tonic. Birch does have medicinal benefits too – traditionally the sap was drunk for breaking up kidney or bladder stones. You can also use it to make wine or beer (maybe not at FS!) or boil it down to make a syrup.
You can drink the sap of any birch species – but silver birch tastes much nicer than the others. Pick a sunny day to do the collecting.
Many sources will tell you to drill a hole through the bark of the trunk, till you reach the cambium layer, then insert a tube connected to a container a wait for the sap to drain. However I personally prefer a different method as I believe that drilling into the trunk can potentially introduce infection into the tree. I have done it that way in the past and interesting I recently went to visit a tree that I had tapped through the trunk several years ago – interestingly the tree had died and was a standing deadwood complete with beautiful bracket fungi. Although I have no way of knowing whether it was the hole I drilled that introduced the infection, I doubt that it helped matters!
A more sensitive and lower impact way of collecting sap is to cut off the end of one of the smaller side branches and then allowing the sap to drip out into a container. Depending on the size of the branch that has been cut, the end might fit into a collecting tube. Leave to collect the amount of sap required. Using this method means that if an infection does get into the tree, the tree can compartmentalise the branch, rather than it getting into the main vessels running up and down the trunk. Before you choose a tree & branch you could ask the tree for its permission and see if it guides you to take certain branches. From a management perspective, some trees may need pruning, or may have suffered past damage so would make logical choices for cutting.
If you haven’t yet discovered the fascinating world of how trees look after themselves then I recommend typing CODIT into a search engine. CODIT = Compartmentalisation of Decay in Trees.
Learn more about the wonderful world of Birch on the Birch factfile page here.
Need to justify activities for your setting?! How doing this supports Holistic Development (well – this is how I see it anyway!):
- Physical – Use of tools such as loppers or saw to cut branch. Sensory experience of tasting birch sap.
- Spiritual – Folklore and stories about Birch give a connection to previous generations and promote a relationship with the woodland species. Encouraging dialogue with the tree/plant may promote awareness of plants as living beings.
- Emotional – Expressing gratitude (to the tree for its sap) is conducive to emotional wellbeing.
- Social – Potential for collaborative working to achieve task. Sharing of the sap and discussing its properties. Potential starting point for conversations about trees, drinks etc
- Linguistic – New vocabulary potential (names of species, descriptive terminology of identifying features/biology, folklore content/characters, tools etc). Language for purpose in describing the tree/tools, steps of task etc.
- Cognitive – Awareness and identification of birch species. Awareness of tree/plant biology – what is sap? How plant cells work – Photosynthesis etc. Growth rings – cambium, CODIT, etc Risk awareness and understanding – tool use, foraging code etc.