In Latvia, where I come from, foraging is a national sport. In summer we flock to meadows and forests to pick blueberries and wild strawberries. Then in autumn, our woods provide us with a bounty of delicious mushrooms. But the real foraging season begins much earlier in the year. Soon after the snow melts and the ground thaws, Latvians begin tapping for birch sap.
What is Birch Sap?
Birch sap, also known as birch water, is tapped from birch trees. The sap can only be collected for 2-3 weeks in the spring, just after the ground has thawed and before the tree starts budding green leaves.
In a nutshell, birch sap is very similar to maple sap – the main ingredient of maple syrup – just less sweet and more refreshing. Ask a Latvian, and they will most likely reply: it tastes like spring!
The Uses of Birch Sap
Birch sap is a traditional drink across the Northern Hemisphere. While especially loved by the people of the Scandinavian and the Baltic countries, it’s also known in Northern China and Japan, Canada and Northern US, Russia, and other countries.
It’s a natural source of various vitamins and minerals and is traditionally used for revitalization, cleansing, as well as combating poor health. As birch sap remains fresh only for a few days, bottled birch water has usually been either fermented or pasteurized.
More creative uses of birch sap include lemonade, beer, wine, and sparkling wine (I can vouch that the latter tastes great!). It can also be used in cooking, for example, for making syrup, marmalade, or ice cream, and makes a great ingredient for creative cocktails.
Apparently, birch water is the up-and-coming health drink trend and will soon give coconut water a run for its money. But, for Latvians, nothing can compete with fresh birch sap straight from the tree. During the tapping season, the average Latvian consumes around 1,5 liters of birch sap per day.
Harvesting Birch Sap
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the perfect time of the year for trying to harvest your own birch sap! Once you have found a suitable tree, the process is very simple. You just need to drill a shallow hole in the birch tree’s trunk and insert a tap or a tube. Then strap a container for collecting the sap to the tree and wait for the sap to collect.
As with (almost) everything these days, you can also learn how to tap a birch tree for sap on YouTube.
Have you ever tried fresh birch sap or bottled birch water?