Archive for October 8th, 2011

River Birch – Betula nigra

River Birch
River Birch

“I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven… One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

By Robert Frost


This native of Eastern United States is a lover of swamps, yet has the same exfoliating bark as the paper birch. Unfortunately it is listed as Endangered in New Hampshire. Prior to his becoming the Emperor of Mexico, Prince Maximilian toured North America and proclaimed the River Birch the most beautiful tree to grace the northern lands.


This tree has been used for many years by the Native peoples of North America for medicine and food. As an herbal medicine the Cherokee used, the leaves, in infusion form, to treat dysentery, and colds. A decoction of the bark was used for stomach complaints, for ‘milky urine,’ difficulty urinating, and urinary discharge.


As a food stuff it was one of the sweet treats that Native children could enjoy. The sap was gathered, much like maple sap, and boiled down to make a sweet syrup that could be used with anything. The only other use made of the tree was during famine times when the inner bark was used to stave off death.