Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Refreshment of Spring: Birch Juice

Spring has sprung and it is time for birch juice! Birch sap flows in the early spring when the nights are cold but the days are warm, usually March and April in Ukraine. Birch juice tastes mostly like water with barely perceptible sweet, woody notes. As a food source, it is rich in vitamin C, sodium, potassium, manganese and calcium. As both Ukrainian foresters and grannies will attest, birch juice has medicinal properties and is a salubrious beverage. It is touted as an antioxidant that particularly supports the liver and kidneys. Unlike North American maple sap, in Ukraine, birch sap is typically drunk in its unadulterated form, rather than boiled into a thick, sweet syrup. (I have never seen birch syrup in Ukraine but, apparently, it is made. However, it is rather resource and time intensive. According to University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, the ratio of raw birch sap to syrup is 100 to 1. By comparison, 40 liters of raw maple sap are required for 1 liter of maple syrup. Despite this, birch syrup is allegedly an emerging cottage industry in Alaska.)

Many rural Ukrainian households collect and preserve birch juice for personal consumption. However, in Ukraine, the State Forestry Enterprises tend to be the largest collectors and have developed commercial operations. Several species of birch (Betula) may be tapped for juice. This involves driving a hole into the truck of the tree. As the temperature rises, the clear liquid sap flows from the hole and into waiting buckets. After collection, the juice is usually strained and enjoyed. However, birch sap is highly perishable and must be pasteurized and preserved almost immediately. Some folks prefer a little sugar or honey in their birch juice while others like it pure. I have also heard of birch wine and birch-vodka cocktails, although I have not yet had the pleasure!

If you have stories or photos related to tapping birch, preserving sap, the therapeutic wonders of birch juice or serving suggestions, please share. We would love to hear from you!

For information about tapping birch trees and making syrup, in English, see the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension’s site.


  1. Great story.
    I'm just off today to look for birch trees In somerset Uk, hoping to find some drinkable sap.


    James :)

  2. Thank you and good luck in the birch grove! Let us know how it turns out!

  3. Hi, here you can see tapping process http://www.youtube.com/wwwsulalv#p/a/u/0/h9ZFkfmpYyk


  4. I was really interested to read about how Ukrainians collect and use birch juice. Last year, I lived and taught in former East Germany as a Fulbrighter. While there, I got engaged. On the last night that my fiance was in the country, some of my teacher friends threw us a house party. At the end of the evening, they remembered that they had some Ukrainian vodka--a visitor from Ukraine had brought it several years prior, and they'd never thought to drink it. I think there were 4 bottles total--unflavored vodka, Kirsch (cherry) vodka, Pffeffer (pepper) vodka, and Birke (birch) vodka. I could believe the first 3 variations, but the fourth was somewhat of a mystery. My friends were translating from Russian to Germany, so I thought they might have made a mistake... Birch vodka? Thank you so much for providing this information, and for reminding me of such a wonderful evening.
    P.S. The Birch vodka was my favorite :)

  5. Thanks for sharing your story with us Emilie! I am actually quite partial to Birch vodka myself.. It is a unique, earthy kind of taste. Nemiroff, a commercial producer, makes a version that is widely available in Ukraine. I would love to taste a home-infused version!

  6. I´m drinking Birch juice every year and I can tell you that is very healthy for my kidneys(last year I had kidney stones and they desapeare after drinking that juice)It´s tasty,and also helps you clean your skin and your blood!In Bosnia where I am living now is a time for collecting and drinking,so now I´m enjoying in it and I hope you will to!

  7. Great to hear from another birch juice enthusiast! Thanks for your comment!

  8. I love drink Birch juice and I can tell you that is very healthy