Why All the Fuss about Birch Waters
This fashionable drink from birch trees has a long history of healing
Dog-wood Summer by Yumi Kawaguchi
The Birch as Goddess of Protection
Many Native American traditions view the birch tree as a protector. Birch bark is of course famous for canoes and waterproof shelters. When caught out during lightning storms, native peoples would seek protection under birch trees because they’re rarely struck and tend not to be killed when they are struck. Many tribes also wrapped their dead with birch bark so that the birch tree would continue protecting their loved ones in the afterlife. In Europe, druids knew the birch tree as the “Lady of the Woods” and it represented revitalization and rebirth because it’s often the first tree to bud leaves in the spring. Thus newlyweds were given birch bark presents to ensure fertility. In other parts of Europe, the birch tree is seen as a goddess of nurturing and cultivation because it settles in uncultivated, harsh terrain and gradually nourishes the land so that other trees and plants can settle in.
The Birch as Medicine
Birch bark contains methyl salicylate, known as oil of wintergreen, which is a combination of salicylic acid (aspirin) and methanol. Methyl salicylate is the joint pain reliever in Bengay, the antiseptic in Listerine mouthwash, and the active ingredient in many dandruff shampoos and eczema medications. Remains of stone-age hunter-gatherers show that birch resin was used to treat tooth ailments. The resin is not only a pain reliever, it is sweetened by xylitol, which is as sweet as table sugar but does not feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay, and actually helps in the remineralization of bone. Used as a skin treatment, dermatological birch sap products have produced an approximately 20 percent increase in skin smoothness and tightness.
The Birch for Healing Water
Birch waters are traditionally enjoyed as spring tonics throughout the world. Like maple water, birch water is extracted by tapping the trunk during a critical two-week window in early spring when the sap travels up from the roots to revitalize the dormant branches and leaves. Recent research by MIT revealed that a tree’s sapwood filters out 99 percent of bacteria from any water its roots absorb. The Daily Mail describes birch water as tasting “like super-clean spring water, with a subtle underlying sweetness and woody aftertaste.”
Like coconut water and maple water, birch water contains proteins, amino acids, vitamins, magnesium, zinc, potassium, calcium, iron, and other minerals and electrolytes. It is also high in antioxidants like vitamin C, manganese, phytonutrients, polyphenols, saponins, and glutathione. Studies show that drinking birch water rejuvenates skin cells while simultaneously protecting them from oxidative stress, the sun’s UV rays, environmental pollution, and damage from inflammation. Birch water is lower in calories than coconut water and discourages cavity development due to its xylitol content. Xylitol contains 40 percent fewer calories than table sugar.
The Birch Against Global Warming
Unlike many sports drinks, which contain refined sugars, artificial dyes, and artificial flavorings, birch water is a low-calorie drink that contains a lot of electrolytes. Better still, commercialization of tree waters is a new incentive for companies to profit from trees without cutting them down. You can drink a tree and help save a forest.