Herb: Yellow Birch

Latin name: Betula alleghaniensis

Synonyms: Betula lutea

Family: Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Medicinal use of Yellow Birch:

Yellow birch is little used medicinally, though a decoction of the bark has been used by the native North American Indians as a blood purifier, acting to cleanse the body by its emetic and cathartic properties. The bark is a source of "Oil of Wintergreen". This does have medicinal properties, though it is mainly used as a flavouring in medicines.

Description of the plant:


12 m
(39 feet)



Habitat of the herb:

Usually found in moist well-drained soils in rich woodlands on lower slopes, it is also found in cool marshlands in the south of its range.

Edible parts of Yellow Birch:

Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a powder and used with cereals in making bread. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply. Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. The sap is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. It flows abundantly, but the sugar content is much lower than maple sap. A pleasant drink, it can also be concentrated into a syrup or 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." A tea is made from the twigs and leaves. The dried leaves are used according to another report. An excellent flavour. The twigs and leaves have the flavour of wintergreen and can be used as condiments.

Other uses of the herb:

The bark is waterproof and has been used by native peoples as the outer skin of canoes, as roofing material on dwellings and to make containers such as buckets, baskets and dishes. Wood - close-grained, very strong, hard, heavy. The wood is too dense to float. An important source of hardwood lumber, it is used for furniture, boxes, tubs of wheels, floors etc. It is also often used as a fuel.

Propagation of Yellow Birch:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help. 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.

Cultivation of the herb:

Usually found in moist well-drained soils in rich woodlands on lower slopes, it is also found in cool marshlands in the south of its range.

Known hazards of Betula alleghaniensis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.