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Betula lenta - L.

Common Name Cherry Birch, Sweet birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch
Family Betulaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards The essential oil obtained from the bark contains 97 - 99% methyl salicylate. This is very toxic when taken orally, and it can also be absorbed through the skin, resulting in human fatalities. As little as 4, 700 mg can be fatal in children[269]. The aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons in birch tar are irritating to the skin. Do not use in patients with oedema or with poor kidney or heart functions [301]
Habitats Rich woodlands, preferring north-facing slopes and moist soils[43, 62]. It is also found on rocky soils[229].
Range Eastern N. America - Quebec to Georgia, west to Alberta and Ohio.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Betula lenta Cherry Birch,  Sweet birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch


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Betula lenta Cherry Birch,  Sweet birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch
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Summary

Bloom Color: Brown. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Oval, Upright or erect.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Betula lenta is a deciduous Tree growing to 24 m (78ft 9in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and is pollinated by Wind.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

B. carpinifolia.

Habitats

Woodland Garden Canopy;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Inner bark  Sap
Edible Uses: Condiment  Sweetener  Tea

Inner bark - cooked or dried and ground into a powder[4, 62, 102]. Sweet and spicy[177]. The dried inner bark can be used as a thickener in soups etc or can be added to flour when making bread etc. Inner bark is generally only seen as a famine food, used when other forms of starch are not available or are in short supply[K]. Sap - raw or cooked[2, 46, 102]. A sweet flavour[61, 177]. It is harvested in early spring, before the leaves unfurl, by tapping the trunk. The flow is best on sunny days following a heavy frost. A delicious drink, it can also be concentrated into a syrup or sugar[183]. The sap can be fermented to make birch beer or vinegar[183]. An old English recipe for the beer is as follows:- "To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr'd together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm'd. When it is sufficiently boil'd, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work...and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum."[269]. The dried leaves and bark from the larger roots are a delightful tea substitute[177, 183]. A wholesome, agreeable tea is made from the essential oil contained in the inner bark and twigs[21, 55, 62]. This essential oil is also used as a wintergreen flavouring in foods[183].

Medicinal Uses

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Analgesic  Anthelmintic  Antiinflammatory  Antiseborrheic  Astringent  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Rubefacient  
Stimulant

The bark is anthelmintic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic and stimulant[4, 21]. A tea made from the bark is used in the treatment of fevers, stomach aches and lung ailments[222, 257], it is said to be an excellent tonic in cases of dysentery and to be useful in the treatment of gravel and female obstructions[4]. An essential oil distilled from the bark is anti-inflammatory, analgesic and rubefacient[222]. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism, bladder infections, neuralgia etc[222]. The oil, called 'oil of wintergreen', used to be produced commercially, but it is now manufactured synthetically[222]. A tea made from the twigs is used in the treatment of fevers[222]. The leaves can be chewed or used in an infusion in the treatment of dysentery[257]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Betula species for infections of the urinary tract, kidney and bladder stones, rheumatism (see [302] for critics of commission E).

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Edible Shrubs provides detailed information, attractively presented, on over 70 shrub species. They have been selected to provide a mix of different plant sizes and growing conditions. Most provide delicious and nutritious fruit, but many also have edible leaves, seeds, flowers, stems or roots, or they yield edible or useful oil.

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Other Uses

Essential  Fuel  Tannin  Wood

An essential oil is obtained from the bark and twigs, it is distilled in quantity and is an item of commerce[235]. It can be used medicinally, as a food flavouring, as an ingredient in cosmetic shampoos and also to make a wholesome tea[11, 21, 46, 171, 269]. The oil, when decolourized, is similar to 'Oil of Wintergreen' (obtained from Gaultheria procumbens) and is considered to be of superior quality[245]. The tree is coppiced every 5 years and all parts are distilled for the oil[245]. The tree grows up to 3 metres tall in this 5 year period[245]. The greatest yield of oil is obtained if the tree is harvested in the summer[245]. The oil distilled from the wood is insect repellent[269].l The bark contains up to 16% tannin[223]. The thin outer bark is waterproof and has been used as the outer cladding on dwellings, canoes etc[257]. It has also been used to make baskets, dishes, buckets etc[257]. Wood - very strong, close grained, hard, heavy. The wood is richly marked[4], it weighs 40lb per cubic foot and is exploited commercially for making floors, furniture, tools etc[11, 46, 61, 82, 171, 229]. It makes an excellent fuel[11, 46, 61, 229]. A dynamic accumulator gathering minerals or nutrients from the soil and storing them in a more bioavailable form - used as fertilizer or to improve mulch.

Special Uses

Dynamic accumulator  Food Forest  Scented Plants

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Specimen, Woodland garden. An easily grown plant, it succeeds in a well-drained loamy soil in a sheltered position[11, 200]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Dislikes wet soils[200]. Shade tolerant[200]. Cherry birch is said to tolerate an annual precipitation of ca 60 to 150cm, an average annual temperature range of 5 to 12°C, and a pH of 4.5 to 7.5[269]. Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus[50]. The bruised foliage has a strong smell of wintergreen[200]. A good plant to grow near the compost heap, aiding the fermentation process[20]. Trees can be coppiced on a cycle of 5 years or more[245]. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus[200]. Special Features: Attracts birds, North American native, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 7 through 1. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is a standard with a non-suckering single trunk [1-2]. The root pattern is a heart root, dividing from the crown into several primary roots going down and out [1-2].

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The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

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Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame[78, 80, 113, 134]. Only just cover the seed and place the pot in a sunny position[78, 80, 134]. Spring sown seed should be surface sown in a sunny position in a cold frame[113, 134]. If the germination is poor, raising the temperature by covering the seed with glass can help[134]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it can be sown in an outdoor seedbed, either as soon as it is ripe or in the early spring - do not cover the spring sown seed. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for 2 years before planting them out into their permanent positions in the winter[78, 80, 113, 134].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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