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Birch-Tre-sap-msg - 7/10/08


Use of Birch Tree sap in period and post-period in medicine and as a sweetener.


NOTE: See also the files: sugar-msg, p-medicine-msg, gums-resins-msg, Birch-Brk-Wrt-art, beverages-msg, torches-msg, wood-msg, beeswax-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 01:01:58 EDT

From: melc2newton at juno.com (Michael P Newton)

Subject: Re: SC - birch


A recipe recently found for birch leaf wine (Actually a leaf wine in

general recipe; since I live in Oak Heart, I am going to do the oak leaf

wine this next spring): Pick 4 qts. of very young oak or birch leaves in

the early spring when the leaves are the size of a mouse's ear. Pour four

pints of boiling water over the leaves, let stand for a day, and then

strain. Warm the liquid to dissolve two lbs. of sugar ( I think I'm going

to use honey instead and make it a oakleaf mead). Add one half cup lemon

juice and when cool, one tablespoon of yeast. Add water to make a volume

of one gallon, and ferment.


Lady Beatrix



Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 11:35:21 -0800

From: "Crystal A. Isaac" <crystal at pdr-is.com>

Subject: Re: SC - Sugar Maples


Par Leijonhuvud wrote:

> On Mon, 23 Mar 1998, Tim & Dee wrote:

> > Is/are there any sugar maple trees in Europe? And what is Sweet

> > Water?


> You *can* get a sweet syrup from birches, but I don't know if it was

> done in the middle ages.


There is some precedent in using tree sap as a fermentable sweetener. In

her text, A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food & Drink: Production &

Distribution (page 229), Ann Hagan notes "Saps were apparently

fermented: Bartholomew Anglicus observes that birch and honey would make

a strong drink, and sycamore saps could be fermented with ale or yeast."

C. Anne Wilson further comments, "Birch tree wine was fermented from the

spring sap tapped from tree trunks in Sussex and in the Scottish

highlands. The sap could also be brewed as ale with only a quarter of

the normal allowance of malt." in Food and Drink in Britain from the

Stone Age to the 19th Century (page 383).


I will cheerfully make beer/mead/nonalcoholics for anybody who has

*primary* documentation for tree sap in medieval drinks (other than

Bartholomew Anglicus, I've already found a copy of him).


Crystal of the Westermark



Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2000 15:19:45 -0500

From: "Jeff Gedney" <JGedney at dictaphone.com>

Subject: SC - Russian Birch Beer?


While reading Hakluyts "Voyages" (published in very late Period - about 1590

or thereabouts), I came across a reference in the section covering the

Muscovy Company, from about 1530, or so, when a corresponcent was

describing the foods and drinks of the Russians with which he was

presented while essentially trying to hammer out a trade deal in Moscow.

He described several types of "meades" ( including a good working

description of kvass ), one of which was " mayde of the root of the Birche

tree" ( I forget now what it was called. It was named, but the book went

back to the library ).

Do any of you know what this was, and how it was prepared?

any have a copy of the Domestroi? is it in there?





From: "Uwe Müller" <uwemueller at go4more.de>

Newsgroups: soc.history.medieval

Subject: Re: Medieval Torch Questions

Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2006 20:37:40 +0200


"celia" <c_a_blay at hotmail.com> schrieb:

> Thanks, that's useful.

> The information in the thread 'Peasant Craftsmen in the

> Medieval Forest' about charcoal burning and the suitability

> of various woods for fine metal working came mainly

> from my brother who worked as a charcoal burner for

> several years.


>  Celia


Back to the original question. By chance I found something on Germanic torches.

In germanic cremation burials (pre migration age, off topic?) little pieces

of what was called resin were found. Analysis showed them to be made of

birch tar and wax and many pieces included pieces or impressions of rough



These pieces are interpreted as pieces of torches made by wrapping a stick

or branch with strips of cloth saturated with this tar/wax mixture. The

torches would have been used while sorting bones and bits out of the ashes

of the funeral pyre or while putting the urn in the ground.


Uwe Mueller



Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 22:07:36 -0400

From: ranvaig at columbus.rr.com

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Tree Saps: Was New World Food

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


> I can't answer the question directly but I have been aware of birch

> syrup.  Since Scandinavia is full of birch trees looking in Northern

> sources for references to tapping birch trees seems appropriate.


Birch sap is much less sweet than sugar maple, it may have been a  

local item, but I doubt that it was used widely as a sweetener.




> Making birch syrup is more difficult than making maple syrup,  

> requiring about 80 to 110 liters of sap to produce one liter of  

> syrup (more than twice that needed for maple syrup). The tapping  

> window for birch is generally shorter than for maple, primarily  

> because birches live in more northerly climates. The trees are  

> typically tapped and their sap collected in the spring (generally  

> mid- to late April, about two to three weeks before the leaves  

> appear on the trees). Birches have a lower trunk and root pressure  

> than maples, so the pipeline or tubing method of sap collection  

> used in large maple sugaring operations is not as useful in birch  

> sap collection.





Birch sap differs significantly, however, from maple in that it has  

simple sugars (glucose and fructose) rather than the more complex  

sugars of maple (sucrose). There are also other differences in  

chemical composition.


Roughly 100 gallons of sap are required to make a gallon of birch  

syrup. Maple syrup, on the other hand, requires about 40 to 50  

gallons of sap per gallon of syrup.





Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2008 22:46:51 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Birch Tree recipes was Tree Saps: Was New

        World Food

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


Elise Fleming asked:

> The comment was made regarding maple syrup as New World:


>> maple syrup perhaps... but a lot of different trees have sap that i

>> find hard to believe no one would have tried to do something with.


>   Now, let us ask ourselves... Have we ever seen depictions of tapping trees

> in medieval illustrations? Can we recall any mention of using a tree syrup

> for sweetener? Honey, yes. Sugar, yes. Are there any references to

> people doing this as a seasonal job? If using a tree sap for some type of

> syrup or sweetener had been done, would there not be some visual or written

> reference? Can anyone think of any such? That might be a confirmation

> more than extrapolating that if we do it now, it could have been done prior

> to 1600.


> Alys K.


There is of course a recipe for Birch Wine that starts out by tapping birch trees in the Tudor Jacobean manuscript A Booke of Sweetmeats as published

in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, edited by Karen Hess.

See recipe S257 To Make Birch Wine.

(It turns up quite frequently and is even mentioned as being a product

of Scotland in Mason and Brown's

Traditional Foods of Britain. They even refer one to a recipe by John


I found that Birch Wine is also mentioned in Vinetum Britannicum; Or, A Treatise of Cider and Other Wines and Drinks ...

By John Worlidge in the edition from 1691.

Also it's in Hannah Glasse The Art of Cookery and also in Raffald.


I turned up numerous records tonight in terms of mentions in Early

English printed books. Here are a few:


The 1692 Medicina practica, or, Practical physick  offers this recipe:


XXXIV. Brannerus de Calculo commends the fol|lowing Syrup as an

excel|lent Remedy, leaving no calculous Matter behind in the Kidnies, if

after Pur|ging, two Spoonfuls of it be taken at a time in the Mor|ning

Fasting: Take Juice of Speedwell one Pound, Juice of Ground Ivy six

Ounces, of Purslane three Ounces; mix, and make a Syrup with Ho|ney one

Pound and a half. Both Helmont and Faber com|mend the Liquor of the

Birch -Tree, which we call  Birch   wine, as a Remedy that does not

only expel the Stone and Gravel, but also prevents the Bleeding thereof.


The 1675 The Accomplish'd lady's delight in preserving calls for birch

sap here:


36. To take away Spots and Freckles from the Face and Hands.


The Sap that issueth out of a Birch-Tree in great abundance, being

opened in March or April, and a Glass Receiver set under it to Receive

it: This cleanseth the Skin Excellently, and maketh it very clear, being

washed therewith. This Sap will dissolve Pearl, a Secret not known to  



The 1616 Maison rustique, or The countrey farme that Gervase Markham

worked on says:


Birch tree yeeldeth twigs, which serue to make rods for the punishing of

theeues withall, as also to make baskets, little maunds, beesomes, and

couerings for earthen bottles. Of the stocke is made charcoale, seruing

for the melting of mettall: And of the rinde are made links to giue

light in the night season: for to such end doe country people vse them.

The iuice of the leaues mixt amongst the runnet of a Calfe, doth keepe

cheese from wormes and rottennesse. If you pierce the stock of the

Birch-tree, there will come forth a water, which being drunke a long

time, is of power to breake the stone of the reines and bladder: being

taken in a gargarisme, it drieth the vlcers of the mouth: and being vsed

in lotions, it cleanseth and taketh away the filthinesse and infections

of the skin. Page 661


This work of course is based on the  work of the French author

Estienne, Charles, [1504-ca. 1564] so it dates from before 1564.





Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 18:53:36 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Birch Tree recipes was Tree Saps: Was New

        World  Food (wines)

To: grizly at mindspring.com, Cooks within the SCA

        <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


I am not up to typing out the recipe in full. It's on pages 384-385.

You take gallons of the sap, boyle it well as you doe bear*

but first add one pound of sugar to each gallon. After boiling

add yeast as ye doe to ale. Bottle and age at least 8-9 weeks.




Nick Sasso wrote:

> -----Original Message-----

> There is of course a recipe for Birch Wine that starts out by tapping birch

> trees in the Tudor Jacobean manuscript A Booke of Sweetmeats as published

> in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, edited by Karen Hess.

> See recipe S257 To Make Birch Wine.


> Do you have the information handy to describe what other  

> fermentables are added?  snipped


> niccolo



Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 20:47:17 -0400

From: Johnna Holloway <johnnae at mac.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Birch Tree recipes was Tree Saps: Was New

        World  Food (wines)

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>


Nick Sasso wrote:

> Anyone look at the amount of just the fuel required to boil down huge vats

> of Birch sap in period?  Would that even have been financially feasible to

> do for whatever use it would have been needed for?


Here's another recipe. This one is from the early 18th century.

No. 2.


Gerardo, in 1597, says: "Concerning the medicinable use of the

Birch tree or his parts, there is nothing extant either in the old or  

new writers," but goes on to speak of it as " terribilis magistratum virgis,"

both in the time of Pliny and his own. AVhile this salutary but

disagreeable use of the tree continues in the prisons of the county to

the present day, another more pleasant mode of turning it to account

seems worth record.


In a curious work entitled "A collection of above Three hundred

Receipts in Cookery &c. for the use of Good wives, Tender Mothers &

Careful Nurses by several Hands. Printed for Mary Kettleby 1728,"

is given the following receipt: " Birch-Wine, as made in Sussex.

Take the sap of Birch fresh drawn, boil it as long as any scum arises ;

to every Gallon of Liquor put two Pounds of good Sugar ; boil it hall

an Hour, & scum it very clean ; when tis almost cold, set it with a

little Yeast spread on a Toast ; let it stand five or six days in an open

Vessel, stirring it often ; then take such a Cask as the Liquor will be

sure to fill ; & fire a large Match dipt in Brimstone, & put it into the

Cask, & stop in the Smoak, till the Match is extinguish'd, always

keeping it shook, then shake out the Ashes, and, as quick as possible,

pour in a pint of Sack or Rhenish, which taste you like best, for the

Liquor retains it ; rince the Cask well with this, & pour it out ; Pour

in your Wine, and stop it close for six Months, then, if 'tis perfectly

fine, you mny Bottle it."


In the Highlands, as at Balmoral, birch wine is said to be still

made and held in estimation, but I am not aware of any recent production

of it in Sussex.

You can find this in Google Books Sussex Archaeological Collections

Relating to the History and Antiquities of ... - Page 237




I suspect that Birch wine was considered medicinal enough in nature that it was

created for health reasons. One laid in and made a supply to treat

illnesses over the course of a year.

One source I came across said it was excellent for the stone and to cure

sore mouths.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org