I think birch trees are pretty amazing. They are handsome trees, with their unique, papery bark and dancing leaves of brilliant green. But besides their ornamental quality, they are also a great resource for helping to nourish and heal the body, mind, and spirit.
Did you know birch trees are edible? They produce sap and this sap can be boiled down to make syrup, just like a maple tree. Ever hear of “birch beer?” For those of you that haven’t, it’s a soda drink similar in taste to root beer that is made from birch syrup and it’s delicious (try Boylan brand, or if you’re feeling super-adventurous and happen to have access to birch sap, make your own). The sap itself, by the way, contains nutrients such as Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, and some amino acids.
The healing properties of birch trees are numerous. The sap can be made into tonics for antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itching treatments. The leaves can be used to make a diuretic tea and is supposed to keep our kidneys and urinary tract healthy. The twigs can be boiled and softened and used on cuts and wounds. The bark and the twigs are also edible, although I think animals get more satisfaction out of the flavor than we would!
Bundles of green birch boughs can be used to make a “vihta” (pronounced just how it looks – vih-tah). The vihta is traditionally used in the Finnish sauna to increase circulation by slapping the skin with it. The wonderful fresh scent of the vihta combined with the steam rising off the hot rocks on the stove makes for a most therapeutic sauna session for the skin, breath, and mind. Birch wood is also the preferred wood for sauna stoves, as it burns well and hot but lasts a long time.
On breezy summer nights, there really is nothing as relaxing and restful as sleeping in a room with the windows open to a forest of graceful birch trees. The leaves flutter rhythmically and make the softest lullaby. This is great help for anxiety and insomnia (both of which, unfortunately, I suffer from).
The Finnish word for ‘birch’ is “koivu” (pronounced coy-voo). The silver birch is the national tree of Finland. And although I am not from Finland, I am from the “Finn Hook,” which is a region of the United States populated by the highest concentration of Finnish people, likely due to the fact that the climate and geography (ie. plenty of birch trees, pine trees, lakes) are pretty much the same (by the way, a finn hook is also a clever massage tool made in Finland – it’s made of birch). My family tells me I am 100% Finnish, yet I was born in the United States. I’m the fifth generation, in fact. So yes, I am American. . .but I am also a Finn.
The birch tree is poised, graceful, and full of healing properties for the body, the mind, and the spirit. It stands tall and gives all of itself to benefit others. If I were a tree, I’d be a birch tree. A Finnish-American tree. A “Koivu Tree.”
If you were a tree, what tree would you be?
PS. Please visit www.joycekoskenmaki.com for more information on Joyce Koskenmaki and her incredible art work. Unfortunately, this piece I’ve featured today on my blog is no longer available (ugh, I really want it and I can’t have it!), but there are other great works available. Check it out!