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Betula nigra, River Birch

£0.79

A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process. This species has an extensive root system and is sometimes planted for erosion control along the banks of streams.

Young branches are used to make besoms, whisks etc.

Wood - light, strong, close grained and hard, but it contains many knots because of the numerous branches along the trunk. It weighs 36lb per cubic foot. Of little use commercially, though it is sometimes used for furniture, turnery etc

Succeeds in a well-drained loamy soil in a sheltered position. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Likes its roots within reach of water. Dislikes wet soils according to another report. Shade tolerant.

Seed requires 6 weeks cold stratification.

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.

Edible uses

Sap - raw or cooked. A sweet flavour. Harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl. The trunk is tapped by drilling a hole about 6mm wide and about 4cm deep. The sap flows best on warm sunny days following a hard frost. It makes a refreshing drink and can also be concentrated into a syrup or sugar. The sap 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.\"

http://practicalplants.org/wiki/Betula_nigra

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