When I was about 8 years old, David introduced me to Black Birch (also known as Sweet Birch, Betula lenta), which is rather easy to identify when the branches are broken or scratched, it smells of wintergreen. Yellow birch also has a wintergreen aroma but not as strong. David taught me that I could make tea out of the Black Birch bark. After a long hike, we took a young branch and broke it into small pieces (each about an inch long, the thickness of a matchstick), added it to boiled water and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes (it’s important not to boil the twigs themselves, as they will lose its aroma). The water turned this beautiful red and smelled of wintergreen; the tea was delicious!
As my passion for the natural world grew, I loved to share it with friends. I found I could keep their attention if I identified plants that we could eat along the way. After a long hike, I would harvest some Black Birch and make tea for my hiking companions. This always impressed them and was a good ending to a lovely hike.
What I learned later was that Black Birch has analgesic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory properties. Methyl salicylate compounds found inside the oil are effectively absorbed and used by the body to naturally treat pain. Methyl salicylate is related to the compound from which aspirin is derived from, so it was a perfect ending to a long hike and relieved any muscle aches we had.
When foraging it is important to properly identify the plant before eating or tasting. Peterson has an excellent field guide series.
Audubon also has a great series
P.S. I don’t think you can have too many field guides.
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