Birch water is nature’s energy drink. It’s loaded with zinc, potassium, vitamin C, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, and iron. It also has amazing anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and cleansing properties. Birch water has been proven to lower cholesterol, support liver health, aid in clearer, brighter skin, aids in faster wound healing, joint pain relief, reduce cavities, and aid in weight loss and maintenance. Best of all, it tastes like water, only with a very subtle hint of sweetness.
Here in Alaska beginning in mid-April, depending on when the warm days start and the ground thaws, the sap begins to run. The sap flows due to the root pressure change. As the ground thaws, there is more water for the tree to absorb, thus creating pressure on the root system of the Birch tree. Sap usually stops flowing once the tree begins to develop leaves. Believe it or not, many sourdoughs will tell you that the sap will flow its best when there is still snow on the ground.
Here are some important things to keep in mind when tapping Birch trees: Never tap trees that have been exposed to pesticides, petroleum or other toxic substances. Never tap trees along a roadside or any other location that contains soil pollutants. Don’t tap trees with mushrooms (conks) as these indicate a dead or dying tree. Only put one tap per tree each year, you still want the tree to grow! Select trees with healthy bark.
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You will need:
A new 7/16 drill bit;
Spiles (taps). The spiles need to be sterilized before and after use; and
Food grade tubing, bucket or Ziploc bags.
Locate the south side of the tree. Drill approximately 3 feet from the base of the tree at an upward angle of about 30 degrees for 1 -1 ½ inches. Some trees may be drilled a bit more, but no more than 2 ½ inches into the tree. Once you have ‘tapped’ the tree, you will see the water start flowing out. It should be clear with no odor. Use a pipe cleaner or just blow into the tapped hole to remove any wood shavings left from drilling.
Insert your tap and place your collection method on the tap. We used Ziploc bags with a hole cut through the back side and strengthened with duct tape. We did this because we could seal the bags, meaning no bugs or other creatures could enjoy the fruits of our labor. We have personally collected 3 gallons per day from a single tap! You can drink the water on its own, use it for cooking, or make syrup.
It is recommended that the sap is stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below for a short time, or if you are planning on storing it for a longer period it should be stored at below freezing temperatures.
Making Birch Syrup
Once you have collected the sap, you need to evaporate it down to the same concentration each time you collect it. It takes over 100 gallons of Birch sap to make Birch syrup, so you will want to do this to make storing the sap until you can produce the final syrup easier.
Concentrate the sap by heating it. We used a large stainless steel pan for this. The heat source can be either gas or wood burning stove. Of course, we use the wood burning stove for this (as well as for nearly anything else we can). It takes hours to concentrate the sap, so patience is key. You need to get the sap to a hard-rolling boil to evaporate the water quickly. As it boils, you will see ‘scum’ form on the top and it will stick to the sides of the pan. Skim off the scum and toss it as it forms. Strain the sap through either a small hole strainer or cheesecloth; a coffee filter works great as well. Pour the hot, concentrated sap into canning jars and store it until you have enough to make syrup.
To finish making the syrup, pour all the concentrated sap into a large pan and heat it. As it cooks, it will continue to condense. Make sure you keep at least 2 inches of liquid on the bottom of the pot or it will scorch. Using a candy thermometer, bring the syrup up to 225-228 degrees F. Make sure you watch it consistently throughout the process as it is easy to burn if your temperature gets higher than 228 degrees.
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Strain the syrup through several coffee filters into a canning jar. Add the lids and screw on the rings and allow it to cool. This creates a vacuum seal.
The finished syrup is very thin when hot. The only way to know if it is the consistency you prefer is to allow it to cool. Don’t worry though, because you can always redo this process until it is the thickness you desire. You should know that each time you reheat it, the syrup becomes darker and darker. Once your jars are sealed and at room temperature, store them in a dry, cool place. The Birch syrup keeps for up to two years!
While we won’t be making Birch syrup on a resale level anytime soon, we’re sure enjoying it in our oatmeal, cream of wheat and pancakes! While it’s nowhere as sweet as Maple syrup, we’ve still enjoyed it very much. You find when you live this lifestyle that sweets are a rare occasion and as such, your sensitivity to it raises. We feel that if it were any sweeter than it is it may be too much for us, as the Maple syrup we had last time was too sweet for our new taste buds!
If you’ve ever tapped a Birch tree or made your own syrup, please share your experience with us. We look forward to hearing from you soon.