Spring and summer arrived hand in hand here in Finland. One day it was snowing and a few days later, bam! we had +27C. In a couple of days all the leaves were out, the grass turned green and that signaled the beginning of the foraging season!
If you’ve followed the Nordic Foraging series for a while, you already know that the first thing one can collect when there’s still snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees is birch sap. And that we did also this year.
Birch is such an amazing tree. No wonder Finland chose it to be its national tree. Besides collecting its sap, when the leaves do appear, first small and of a yellowish type of green, then darker and stronger, it’s time to collect them as well!
Next we will consider the properties of birch leaves, how to collect them and some of my favorite uses for this readily available foraged good.
Birch Leaves Properties
Birch leaves are very rich in vitamin C and also contain vitamin A precursors and vitamins B2 and B3. It’s good to remember that concentrations of vitamins decrease as the leaves age and dry. The protein content present in the leaves peaks at the onset of buds and drops rapidly by midsummer, so the time to pick birch leaves is right now!
The inner bark, twigs, and leaves of birch trees have powerful analgesic painkiller properties. They are also anti-inflammatory, astringent, aromatic, and assist the body in reducing fever.
Birch leaf is not recommended for internal use by pregnant women or diabetics due to the possible rapid decrease in blood sugar (source: http://www.yrttitarha.fi/kanta/koivu/)
Collecting Birch Leaves
Collect birch leaves from very clean areas. Avoid collecting from nearby a highly trafficked road. As leaves are considered to be part of a tree, you need permission from the forest’s owner in order to collect them. The same is true for birch sap and chaga mushrooms that usually grow on birches.
Birch Leaves Storage
Besides enjoying them fresh, birch leaves can be stored in the freezer or can be dried and used many months after they’re picked. If infused in alcohol or stored with salt or sugar, their shelf life can be prolonged to up to a year, all the way to the next season when one can collect new leaves.
Birch Leaves Uses
Birch leaves are suitable, for example, for salads and herbal drinks. New and small leaves can be sprinkled on top of sandwiches, finely chopped as you would do with an herb on the surface of your favorite summer foods. When dried, the leaves can be ground and used in herbal salts. Herbal liquor can be made, such as our Spruce Tip Liqueur, from young and tender leaves and unflavoured liquor such as pure alcohol, vodka or grappa. A couple of days are enough for the extraction time.
As a spice, these leaves are suitable to be used a little bit like parsley in soups, stews, smoothies, salads and with boiled potatoes.
Herbal Tea & Iced Tea
My favorite way to use birch leaves is as an herbal tea. All you have to do is boil some water and let the leaves steep for some 10 minutes, strain and enjoy. The flavor of this infusion is very delicate and I can’t find another word to describe it but spring. It smells and tastes like spring.
I enjoy birch herbal tea as iced tea as well. For this kind of tea I prefer to infuse the leaves for a longer time, about half an hour to an hour, add a couple of lemon balm leaves, a dash of lime juice and sweeten it a bit with simple syrup.