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Betula pendula - Roth.                
Common Name Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White Birch
Family Betulaceae
USDA hardiness 2-6
Known Hazards The aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to the skin. Do not use in patients with oedema or with poor kidney or heart functions [301]
Habitats Open woodland and heaths[17, 100]. Rarely found on chalk[17].
Range Most of Europe, including Britain, south and east to Morocco, W. Siberia and central Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun

Bloom Color: Brown. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring.Form: Oval, Pyramidal, Weeping.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of lolypop
Betula pendula is a deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 2. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen from Jul to August. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Synonyms Betula alba var. pendula (Roth) W.T.Aiton
Betula pendula Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White  Birch

Betula pendula Silver Birch, European white birch, Common Birch, Warty Birch, European White  Birch
Woodland Garden Canopy; Secondary; Sunny Edge;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Inner bark;  Leaves;  Sap.
Edible Uses: Tea.

Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a meal[2, 15, 105]. It can be added as a thickener to soups etc or can be mixed with flour for making bread, biscuits etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply[115, 177, K]. Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. It is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It makes a pleasant drink[115]. It is often concentrated into a syrup by boiling off the water[2, 9, 13, 15, 177]. Between 4 and 7 litres can be drawn off a mature tree in a day and this will not kill the tree so long as the tap hole is filled up afterwards[115]. However, prolonged or heavy tapping will kill the tree[115]. The flow is best on sunny days following a frost. The sap can be fermented into a beer. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- "To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr'd together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm'd. When it is sufficiently boil'd, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work...and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum."[269]. Young leaves - raw or cooked[15]. Young catkins[15]. No more details are given. A tea is made from the leaves[15, 161] and another tea is made from the essential oil in the inner bark[21].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anticholesterolemic;  Antiinflammatory;  Antirheumatic;  Antiseborrheic;  Antiseptic;  Astringent;  Bitter;  Cholagogue;  Diaphoretic;  Diuretic;  Laxative;  
Lithontripic;  Miscellany;  Skin.

Anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, diaphoretic[21, 165, 201]. The bark is diuretic and laxative[7]. An oil obtained from the inner bark is astringent and is used in the treatment of various skin afflictions, especially eczema and psoriasis[4, 238]. The bark is usually obtained from trees that have been felled for timber and can be distilled at any time of the year[238]. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, it is used in treating intermittent fevers[4]. The vernal sap is diuretic[4]. The buds are balsamic[7]. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance which has acid properties, when combined with alkalis it is a tonic laxative[4]. The leaves are anticholesterolemic and diuretic[7]. They also contain phytosides, which are effective germicides[7]. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of gout, dropsy and rheumatism, and is recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones[4]. The young leaves and leaf buds are harvested in the spring and dried for later use[238]. A decoction of the leaves and bark is used for bathing skin eruptions[4]. Moxa is made from the yellow fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out of the fissures[4]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Betula species for infections of the urinary tract, kidney and bladder stones, rheumatism (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Adhesive;  Besom;  Charcoal;  Compost;  Dye;  Essential;  Fibre;  Fungicide;  Hair;  Miscellany;  Paper;  Pioneer;  Polish;  Repellent;  Tannin;  Thatching;  Waterproofing;  Wood.

The bark is used to make drinking vessels, canoe skins, roofing tiles etc[115]. It is waterproof, durable, tough and resinous. Only the outer bark is removed, this does not kill the tree. It is most easily removed in late spring to early summer. A pioneer species, it readily invades old fields, cleared or burnt-over land and creates conditions suitable for other woodland trees to become established. Since it is relatively short-lived and intolerant of shade, it is eventually out-competed by these trees[17, 186]. A tar-oil is obtained from the white bark in spring. It has fungicidal properties and is also used as an insect repellent[4, 13, 100]. It makes a good shoe polish[61]. Another report says that an essential oil is obtained from the bark and this, called 'Russian Leather' has been used as a perfume[245]. A decoction of the inner bark is used to preserve cordage[115], it contains up to 16% tannin[178, 223]. An oil similar to Wintergreen oil (obtained from Gaultheria procumbens) is obtained from the inner bark[21, 61]. It is used medicinally and also makes a refreshing tea[21]. The resin glands (the report does not say where these glands are found) are used to make a hair lotion[226]. A brown dye is obtained from the inner bark A glue is made from the sap[2, 9, 13, 15]. Cordage can be made from the fibres of the inner bark[115]. This inner bark can also be separated into thin layers and used as a substitute for oiled paper[4]. The young branches are very flexible and are used to make whisks, besoms etc[6]. They are also used in thatching[13, 100] and to make wattles[4]. The leaves are a good addition to the compost heap, improving fermentation[14]. Wood - soft, light, durable. It is used for a wide range of purposes including furniture, tool handles, toys and carving[13, 100, 238]. A high quality charcoal is obtained from the bark. It is used by artists, painters etc[13]. The wood is also pulped and used for making paper[238].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Firewood, Specimen. A very easily grown plant, it tolerates most soils including poor ones[1, 24], sandy soils[188] and heavy clays. It prefers a well-drained loamy soil in a sunny position[11, 200]. It is occasionally found on calcareous soils in the wild but it generally prefers a pH below 6.5, doing well on acid soils[186]. Fairly wind tolerant[200] though it becomes wind shaped when exposed to strong winds[K]. The silver birch is a very ornamental tree[1] with many named varieties[11, 200]. It also has a very wide range of economic uses. It is a fast growing tree, increasing by up to 1 metre a year, but is short-lived[17, 200]. It is often one of the first trees to colonize open land and it creates a suitable environment for other woodland trees to follow[17]. These trees eventually out-compete and shade out the birch trees[17, 186]. It makes an excellent nurse tree for seedling trees, though its fine branches can cause damage to nearby trees when blown into them by the wind. Trees take about 15 years from seed to produce their own seed[98]. Although closely related, it does not usually hybridize with B. pubescens[11]. It often hybridizes with B. pubescens according to another report[186]. A superb tree for encouraging wildlife, it has 229 associated insect species[24]. A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process[14, 20]. It is also a good companion plant, its root action working to improve the soil[14]. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200]. Special Features: Not North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame[78, 80, 113, 134]. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position[78, 80, 134]. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame[113, 134]. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help[134]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring - do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter[78, 80, 113, 134].
Related Plants                                         
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Alnus cordataItalian Alder00
Alnus glutinosaAlder, European alder , Common Alder, Black Alder03
Alnus hirsuta 00
Alnus incanaGrey Alder, Speckled alder, Thinleaf alder, White Alder00
Alnus japonicaJapanese Alder01
Alnus maritimaSeaside Alder, Beach Alder00
Alnus maximowiczii 00
Alnus nepalensisNepalese Alder01
Alnus nitida 01
Alnus rhombifoliaWhite Alder12
Alnus rubraRed Alder, Oregon Alder22
Alnus rugosaSpeckled Alder02
Alnus serrulataSmooth Alder, Hazel alder02
Alnus sinuataSitka Alder11
Alnus tenuifoliaMountain Alder, Thinleaf alder12
Alnus viridis crispaAmerican Green Alder12
Betula alleghaniensisYellow Birch, Swamp Birch32
Betula alnoides 21
Betula ermaniiGold Birch01
Betula glandulosaScrub Birch21
Betula kenaicaKenai Birch31
Betula lentaCherry Birch, Sweet birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch33
Betula nanaDwarf Birch22
Betula nigraRiver Birch, Black Birch, Red Birch, Water Birch, River Birch32
Betula occidentalisWater Birch32
Betula papyriferaPaper Birch, Mountain paper birch, Kenai birch32
Betula platyphyllaWhite Birch, Asian white birch,22
Betula populifoliaGrey Birch21
Betula pubescensWhite Birch, Downy birch33
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[6]Mabey. R. Plants with a Purpose.
Details on some of the useful wild plants of Britain. Poor on pictures but otherwise very good.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[13]Triska. Dr. Hamlyn Encyclopaedia of Plants.
Very interesting reading, giving some details of plant uses and quite a lot of folk-lore.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[15]Bryan. J. and Castle. C. Edible Ornamental Garden.
A small book with interesting ideas for edible plants in the ornamental garden.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[20]Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.
Fairly good.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[24]Baines. C. Making a Wildlife Garden.
Fairly good with lots of ideas about creating wildlife areas in the garden.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[78]Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
[80]McMillan-Browse. P. Hardy Woody Plants from Seed.
Does not deal with many species but it is very comprehensive on those that it does cover. Not for casual reading.
[98]Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.
Very comprehensive guide to growing trees and shrubs from seed. Not for the casual reader.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[115]Johnson. C. P. The Useful Plants of Great Britain.
Written about a hundred years ago, but still a very good guide to the useful plants of Britain.
[134]Rice. G. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
[161]Yanovsky. E. Food Plants of the N. American Indians. Publication no. 237.
A comprehensive but very terse guide. Not for the casual reader.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[178]Stuart. Rev. G. A. Chinese Materia Medica.
A translation of an ancient Chinese herbal. Fascinating.
[186]Beckett. G. and K. Planting Native Trees and Shrubs.
An excellent guide to native British trees and shrubs with lots of details about the plants.
[188]Brickell. C. The RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers
Excellent range of photographs, some cultivation details but very little information on plant uses.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[201]Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting.
A well produced and very readable book.
[223]Rottsieper. E.H.W. Vegetable Tannins
A fairly detailed treatise on the major sources of vegetable tannins.
[226]Lauriault. J. Identification Guide to the Trees of Canada
Very good on identification for non-experts, the book also has a lot of information on plant uses.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.
[269]Duke. J. Handbook of Energy Crops
Published only on the Internet, excellent information on a wide range of plants.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Robert Cowe Mon Sep 11 2006
Can you direct me towards a supplier of silver birch sap please.
Elizabeth H.
brian heaney Tue Jul 17 2007
does anyone have pictures of the tree being used in all the ways above? like how to take the bark off, and how to obtaine the oil from the bark, and how to tapp the tree, the name of tools to do the tapping? thank you,
Elizabeth H.
18Delta Wed Oct 24 2007
dont have photos but I believe I can shine some light here: 1 - stripping the bark is the easiest (only possible?) in the early spring, when sap has started to flow 2 - this 'oil' is actually tar. you need lots of birch bark which you put into a metal container, and under that metal container you need to put another one (smaller) to where the tar will flow. logically, you will need to puncture a hole in the container above. make sure both containers are well sealed. light a fire all around the container with birch bark and let it burn for at least an hour. 3 - tap the tree in the early spring, that is the only time when its possible to obtain the sugary birch liquid. drill a small whole into the trunk about 0,5m from the ground. afterwords you will need to find a suitable piece of wood to put in the drilled hole so that the tree can heal faster and resist bacteria and fungal diseases. dont do this often, it will destroy the tree.
Elizabeth H.
Carl. be good to the Earth Sat Jan 12 2008
Both European Birches are exelent for Bow Drill Fire Making.The Catkins boiled up make a strange but nice tea.

Wildwood Survival good for becoming a part of the Forest

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