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How to Collect Birch Sap

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Listening for rising sap

In early spring there's a healthy drink which you can easily extract from the Birch Tree.  Just before the buds expand and open (late February to early April) the Birch tree trunk is bursting with sap ready to supply the new leaf growth of spring.

In that first photo above you can see my daughter listening to the sap rushing around inside the tree with a stethoscope.  The sound you hear is similar to a fast-flowing river.  If you can find a smooth piece of bark you can just press your ear against the tree and hear it yourself.

All that sap is loaded with vitamins and minerals and tastes sweet and delicious.  And it's free!  But for goodness sake don't tell the Government.  They'll put a tax on it, or make it illegal to drink it, or mess it up for everyone in some dumbass way like they always do.  Anyway, if you want to try Birch sap here's how to get some...

What you need:

  • A length of plastic tubing (food grade) about 5mm in diameter and 30cm long
  • A drill and drill bit the same size as the diameter of the tubing
  • A collecting bottle such as a clean empty water bottle
  • A length of string to tie your bottle to the tree
  • An old bottle cork or short length of 5mm dowel

Drilling into the tree trunk

What to do:

1. Choose a mature Birch tree with a trunk diameter of about 30cm (12 inches).  Ideally, choose a tree well off the beaten track.  This lessens the chance of anybody messing with your sap and spoiling it.

2. Drill a hole, at roughly waist height, about one inch into the tree trunk.  Try to keep the tip of the drill pointing upwards.  It'll make the sap easier to flow out.  As soon as you remove the drill you'll see the sap start to run out.  If not, you probably need to drill slightly deeper.

Push your tubing into the hole

3. Next, quickly insert one end of your tubing into the hole and place your collecting bottle at the other end.  You can see from the photos we drilled a hole in the cap of the bottle.  You don't have to do this, but it helps to secure the tube and prevents any dust or bugs falling into the collecting bottle.

Strap on your bottle

4. Finally tie your bottle to the tree with some string so it doesn't topple over.  If you think your sap bottle might be spotted by some mischevious passer-by you can always disguise it with a bit of brushwood.

Leave your bottle in place for a few hours and when you come back you'll have anything from half a litre to a full bottle.

You could continue to tap the tree for a couple more litres if you want to, or you can remove the tube and plug up the hole.  A piece of cork or dowel is good for this.  It'll seal the hole and prevent any infection getting into the tree.

Drinking It:

Birch sap is a 100% natural healthy beverage.  It's cool and refreshing straight from the tree.  It's loaded with healthy stuff like; vitamin C, potassium, zinc and copper.  All good for boosting your immune system, and it also contains compounds called saponins, which are said to have cholesterol-reducing properties.

You can add it to smoothies or drink it with squash.  You can boil it down to make a sugary syrup for pancakes but, as I discovered the hard way, this is best done outdoors, as the water which evapourates can make your kitchen very, very sticky.  You can also turn it into a wine.  A quick search on the web should reveal a few recipes.  Good luck.

Note: It's best to keep the sap cool until you drink it to avoid bacterial contamination.

More info at: Downy Birch Tree Fact File and Silver Birch Tree Fact File

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