Herb: Grey Birch
Latin name: Betula populifolia
Family: Betulaceae (Birch Family)
Medicinal use of Grey Birch:The bark is astringent. a decoction has been used to treat bleeding piles. Scrapings of the inner bark have been used to treat swellings in infected cuts.
Description of the plant:
Habitat of the herb:Found on the margins of swamps and ponds, it also commonly grows in dry sandy or gravelly barren soils, growing well in poor almost sterile soils.
Edible parts of Grey Birch:Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a meal. The meal can be used as a thickener in soups etc, or be added to flour when 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. Sap - sweet. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. The flow is best on warm days that follow frosty nights. The sap is drunk as a sweet beverage or it can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar. 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.".
Other uses of the herb:A pioneer species, readily invading old fields, burnt-over or cleared land and providing suitable conditions for other woodland trees to become established. It is an excellent crop for very poor soils, where it grows rapidly and affords protection to the seedlings of more valuable and slower-growing trees. Since this species is short-lived and not very shade tolerant, it is eventually out-competed by these other trees. Wood - close-grained, soft, light, weak, not durable. It weighs 36lb per cubic foot. Unimportant commercially, the wood is used locally for making clothes pegs, spools, pulp, charcoal and quite commonly as a fuel.
Propagation of Grey 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:Found on the margins of swamps and ponds, it also commonly grows in dry sandy or gravelly barren soils, growing well in poor almost sterile soils.
Known hazards of Betula populifolia:None known
Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.