Botanical Name: Betula lenta
Other Common Names: Sweet Birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch
Brief Description and Notes: We’ve included this tree for the month of January, as this would be a great time to collect twigs for tea. You can also harvest thin branches in early spring (do not use the leaves). This is a deciduous tree native to Eastern U.S. woodlands. The leaves are simple, alternate, and toothed. However, in the winter, the main identifying features you will find are the scaly/shiny dark bark with horizontal lenticels as well as the brown catkins. If you break a twig you should be able to smell a wintergreen-like scent.
Where To Look For It: Prefers rich, moist (but well-drained), slightly acidic soil. Evolved in upland soils; can be found on much rockier, drier sites. Found in a variety of shade, part-shade, and full sun conditions. Often found in woodlands.
Ornamental Value: Golden fall color, aromatic, rounded shape
Ecological Value & Roles: Considered a “pioneer” species; rapid seedling growth. Supports butterflies, moths, and birds.
Edibility and Other Human Use: Trees can be tapped for sap as you would a Sugar Maple. Use thin branches/twigs for tea, steeping small pieces in boiling water as usual or infusing in slightly cooled boiling water overnight for more intense flavor. Various medicinal indications including for colds, cough, urinary problems, and soreness. Can also be used in a warm bath.
Featured photo by Katja Schulz
Other photos by Victoria Moyer
Wild Wisdom, Awbury Arboretum, 2020