Use the form to the right to email Sarah Sorci,                                                  Sweet Flag Community Herbalist.

Or contact Sarah by phone or mail:

PO Box 261, Fredonia, NY  14063


Fredonia, New York

Black Birch: The wondrous real deal.

Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Black Birch: The wondrous real deal.

Sarah Sorci

My brother Matt drinks a lot of root beer and birch beer. Every time I see a new rustic-looking label, I take an excited sip. The flavors of black birch, sassafras and sarsaparilla are divine. Then I glance at the ingredient list, and my plant-loving heart deflates a bit. Usually there is no trace of real plant material in the bottle, other than corn syrup or sugar. Modern science does a great job of mimicking the real thing with artificial flavor. But if we could still enjoy these plants' anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and "blood cleansing" properties by just sipping soda, that would be great, too. Perhaps if soda companies still banked on the health of forests to make products, they would be powerful supporters of woodland agriculture, forest preservation and reforestation-- who knows?

Here in western NY, I've been delighted to encounter Black Birch, of Birch Beer fame(pictured above). I saw black birch everywhere in western NC, and heard that this flavorful/medicinal species is less common back north. When I spotted its dark, spotted bark and paired, double-toothed leaves here, I nearly gave it a smooch. 
Like white willow and tiny wintergreen, birch contains methyl salicylate, the compound used to make aspirin. This chemical imparts a delicious wintergreen flavor; hence its other common name, "Sweet Birch." Other constituents, including tannins, add to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. 

Fall is a great time to harvest medicinal roots and barks like birch, sassafras, and sarsaparilla. Most plants have finished putting energy into making flowers and seed. Now their resources are moving through the inner bark to their roots, for safe winter storage. 

Using Black BirchWhen harvesting bark, I prune twigs that receive less light. In theory, this allows the plant to direct energy to more productive branches. I never take bark from the trunk. If you don't have black birch in your neighborhood and wish to purchase, email me.

To make birch tea: Snip twigs into small pieces. Boil water. Allow it to cool 15 minutes before pouring over the twigs (1-2 Tbs twigs per cup water). Cover. Steep 4-12 hours. Strain. Enjoy. 

Alcoholic birch beer recipe:

Speaking of Alcohol... Stay tuned for next month's blurb about herb-infused vodka, wine and brandy for the holiday season.